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      1. The Garage Group is excited to organize and host another Columbus Courageous Minds Only Chat on Wednesday, October 2nd, at Hopewell Works, 130 E Chestnut St, Columbus, OH 43215, at 5:30 pm.

        Listen in for battle-tested lessons learned from entrepreneurial leaders on strategies and tactics they’ve personally used to allow their organizations to search for sustainable and bold new ways to add value in the face of increasing market uncertainty.

        Here’s who is jumping in:

        Below is the event agenda:

        5:30-6:00 pm Drinks & Community Building
        6:00-7:00 pm Fireside Chat
        7:00-7:30 pm Drinks & Community Building

        There will be beer, wine, and light snacks provided. Event costs have been covered by The Garage Group so it is free to attend the event, but registration is requested.

        Testing your risky assumptions does not have to be a risky process. A creative, smart approach can uncover similar, if not more significant, insights than those of a traditional, expensive approach. Due to a lack of resources, startups often do not have the choice of which approach to leverage; they must be inexpensive, quick, and iterative.?

        After attending Demo Days for Cincinnati-based accelerators Hillman and The Brandery, we were inspired to sit down with three of the startups’ founders — Daniel Bedolla (EXCITED), Kobi Wu Pasmore (VisuWall Technologies), and Meg Greenhalgh Pryde (Brandefy) — to learn how they broke down their business models and used lean experiments to test their risky assumptions.

         

        EXCITED

        Based out of Mexico, the first gay lifestyle brand focused on beauty, personal care, and fashion.

        What were some of the riskiest assumptions that you tested?

        1. There is a market for this?
        2. Consumers are willing to buy this online

        What lean tactics did you use to de-risk these assumptions?

        To test the market appeal, we conducted A/B tests on Facebook for two separate perfume ads, targeting individuals who identify as gay. The first ad used generic language and the second used language specific to the gay community. After tracking sales, clicks, and engagements, it validated that there is a market for products targeted to the gay man.?

        To confirm that individuals were willing to buy our products specifically online, we built a Facebook fan page where consumers were able to browse and select what they wanted to purchase. Once they “purchased” it, we would order that specific product from China and have it shipped to me. I would then package and send it to the end consumer. This helped de-risk the assumption and hone in on what products would be the most popular, resulting in a smarter bulk inventory purchase afterward.?

        What is on the horizon for your company?

        As we think about expanding and offering our website in markets outside of Mexico, we plan on testing two additional assumptions:

        1. We can launch a brand in the US and make it feel like a US brand, not a Mexican brand
        2. We can make an emotional impact on our customer, not just a transactional one, by offering a platform that allows consumers to co-create, host content, and browse without shopping

         

        VisuWall Technologies

        An online marketplace for sourcing smart outdoor advertising at eye level. Each placement on its platform is optimized with computer vision and digital screens monetizing a rich network for locations and generating a new channel of outdoor that is accessible to brands of all sizes.

        What were some of the riskiest assumptions that you tested?

        1. The return on investment will be better for media buyers than their current advertising options??
        2. People (experiential groups, digital groups, and media buyers) will buy our service

        What lean tactics did you use to de-risk these assumptions?

        To test the ROI, I set up a nanny cam in a vacant store window to manually count how many people passed by the location, proving that the traffic would be higher or comparable to other advertising options. Observing from this unique location allowed me to recognize first-hand the potential for even more intricate data to be collected down the road. This experiment also shed light on the legal guardrails of my business idea; I needed to learn about and build the technology to be GDPR compliant.

        To confirm that people would actually buy this service, I had to get my first client. We had to source locations and simultaneously find our client. We spent about eight months working through the model and shopping it to both users groups before Apple Music said “Yes.” The ongoing conversations were affirming and helped me hone in on my communication strategy of selling analytics first, rather than the window placement.?

        What is on the horizon for your company?

        Digital and programmatic advertising. We’re also planning to expand into other markets, which each come with their own unique challenges. We are currently in NYC and LA, and plan to expand to Chicago and Miami in the next year.????

         

        Brandefy

        A mobile app that compares value brand beauty care to high end beauty care to help shoppers save time and money.

        What were some of the riskiest assumptions that you tested?

        1. People would actually want to compare products and leave reviews on the app?
        2. People care about the drugstore vs. high end comparison

        What lean tactics did you use to de-risk these assumptions?

        To test if people would actually compare products and leave reviews, we created a video, illustrating the service, and attached a signup list to see how many people would sign up to engage with the service.

        To find out if people cared about the comparison between drugstore and high end brands, we bought drugstore products and blogged about them in a review style. We slowly but surely gained traffic, proving that people care about this topic.

        What is on the horizon for your company?

        We would love to talk with brands, manufacturers, and data companies, and ask “At what point would this service become valuable for you?”?

        If you have the resources to run experiments in a traditional, expensive way, take a second to put yourself in the shoes of a startup founder the next time you need to test risky assumptions. How would you approach the experiment differently? What else could you allocate your resources toward if they are preserved in the beginning of the process?

        Thank you Daniel, Kobi, and Meg for sharing your stories and insights. We’re excited to see how you continue to innovate and grow!

        Dennis Furia, Senior Director of Lean Growth, helps lead teams through innovation and growth challenges to get them thinking and growing like a startup. He’s often found shattering the “we can’t do that” mindset with clients and coworkers. So when presented the opportunity to shatter that for himself around one of his biggest passions, he dove in head first. Check out his story!

        I’m a complete gaming nerd. Video games, card games, board games, escape rooms… you name it and I’m into it. I’m the kind of nerd that spent my last vacation inventing a card game. I’m even the kind of nerd that listens to podcasts that are purely other people playing games.?

        Months ago I booked tickets to see one of these podcasts live in Indianapolis. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they were doing a show in Indy because Gen Con (one of the largest board game conferences in the world) was in Indy. Gen Con is a hotspot for learning about new and exciting games, and I eventually realized that, if I was going to Gen Con, and if I’d invented a card game, I would be insane if I didn’t at least try to demo the game while there.

        This realization was all of one week before the convention.

        The barriers to doing this were humongous. My card game (Deck of Wonders) didn’t actually have cards. I’d been using standard playing cards and a “translation sheet” to indicate what they would actually be in the final game. This works great when prototyping in your living room, but it’s hardly something you can demo to strangers. On top of that, exhibitor registration for Gen Con was closed. Even if I had a the game ready to show, the convention wasn’t accepting new entries.

        With the encouragement of the TGG team, however, I took this as a golden opportunity to apply the principles and approaches that we use with clients every day.?

        Principle 1: Ask “What Needs to be True”

        With all booths taken and registration closed, there simply wasn’t a way to get into the convention as an exhibitor. So I asked myself: what would need to be true to show off my game at Gen Con without a booth? What was the most important part of being at Gen Con for my goals? Was being an exhibitor necessary, or was it more important just to be around all the people there to see new games?

        After some thought, I called up the Starbucks across the street from the convention center. They were perfectly happy to have me post up at one of their tables during the convention (provided I was buying coffee, of course)! By challenging the assumption of what it meant to be “at” the convention, I was able to set up shop in a highly-trafficked area for the price of a drip coffee.

        Even with a “booth”, however, I still didn’t have anything to show people. Going from a “translation sheet” to a final game in a week felt completely overwhelming, so again I asked: what really needs to be true to demo a playable game at Gen Con? Thinking through that lens, many of the most intimidating parts of the prototype–card art, packaging, etc–weren’t really necessary. I really only needed enough cards to put together a prototype that showed off the core concept and mechanics.

        With that in mind, I designed a series of “wireframe” cards with basic shapes and text in Powerpoint. They represented only about 20% of what would be in the final game, but they were a complete and playable game on their own. I printed my first prototype of Deck of Wonders literally 1 day before I left for Gen Con.

        Principle 2: Design Experiments with Clear Assumptions

        Before heading out, I sat down and wrote out my critical assumptions about the Deck of Wonders prototype, chose key metrics associated with those assumptions, and set clear goals for each metric.

        To track these assumptions, I set up a simple tally system to track how many people I talked to, what they thought of the game, and whether or not they gave me their email or bought a prototype. I spent some time practicing my demo the night before, and then headed out bright and early the first morning of Gen Con. It was time to get some in-the-wild learning about Deck of Wonders!

        Principle 3: Be Vulnerable

        The Starbucks was as full as I’d hoped it would be, and there was already a small army of Gen Con attendees waiting for their coffee. I’m normally very extroverted and comfortable talking to strangers, but my heart was pounding out of my chest as I sat down and set out Deck of Wonders. Everything I’d done up to this point had been comfortably theoretical, and talking to my first stranger felt like a big step. I had practiced. I was excited. I had a plan. But nothing could have prepared me for the giant wave of shame I felt the first time I said “Hi, would you mind giving some feedback on a card game I’m designing?”

        It had nothing to do with the person’s reaction, or with any other external factor. I had revealed a fixed-mindset belief about myself that I didn’t know I had. “You’re not really a designer,” it said, “you have no right to be out here doing this.” That thought was loud enough to make it hard for me to finish the conversation, even though I should know better.

        It was a literal godsend that just a few minutes later, I received this email newsletter from Jake Knapp, the author of Sprint. It’s about how the defining characteristic of any designer (and entrepreneur) is that they’re out there doing it. The curiosity, motivation, and vulnerability it takes to get into the arena in the first place are also the measuring sticks of how much right a designer or entrepreneur has to be there. I have a newfound respect for any person that puts their personal work out there for feedback, especially when they know it’s still rough or not completely finished.

        With that inspiration in mind, I dove whole-heartedly into demoing the game. Each time it got easier to do, and it helped that the feedback on Deck of Wonders was overwhelmingly positive! At the end of my first day, 95% of people said the concept was clear, 49% had signed up for emails, and 5% (two whole people!) had actually bought the prototype.

        Principle 4: Iterate

        As I looked at my notes that night, I noticed that the two people who bought the game had both sat down to play it with me before buying. Since my original assumptions seemed to be on track, I formed a new one: if I allowed people to schedule a time to play (versus trying to cram it in while they waited for coffee), they would be more likely to play (and buy). I made a signup sheet for scheduled playtimes, as well as refining the demo overall to be less research oriented and more sales oriented.

        Day two was full of more great conversations and feedback. Interestingly, playing the game didn’t seem to be as important as I thought. Not a single person took advantage of scheduled play times, and several people bought the game without asking to play it first. It seemed that wanting to play the game operated more as a function of deciding to buy it then a key factor in making that decision. I threw away my day two assumption and set a new experiment for day three.

        This time, my assumption was proven right! Just mentioning that I was collecting emails at the beginning of the demo increased sign-ups by 85% vs day two. All told for my time at Gen Con: 84% of people said the concept was clear, 61% signed up for emails, and 9% bought the prototype. These results give me more than enough confidence to push full steam ahead with turning the prototype of Deck of Wonders into a reality, and I am continuing to apply the startup inspired principles we use at The Garage Group to fuel my approach.

        Want to learn more about Deck of Wonders and follow its development? Sign up for emails here, or follow the game’s Twitter here!

        On the heels of an entrepreneurial era a new model for innovation, the venture studio, is taking shape; and things will likely never be the same, as inventions and innovations solve problems for a rapidly changing world and its inhabitants. The venture studio concept has been around for at least a decade and is being embraced by researchers, scientists, technologists, corporations, and individuals – that very mix is part of what makes the venture studio model appealing, accomplished, and increasingly prevalent.

        Venture studios pull aside – and together – groups of people who continually explore new ideas, foster and validate them, assemble experts, and back them with financial resources. They allow small teams to venture into new territories with unknown outcomes and provide the freedom to both explore and fail. When an idea begins to stick, a venture studio may build on it via acquisition, integration with resources of a BigCo, or by assembling additional expertise needed to build it from the ground up.

        A distinguishing attribute of a venture studio is that, unlike accelerators and incubators that recruit startups and back them financially in exchange for equity, venture studios assemble their own teams of experts and investors to hatch and nurture – or acquire and build – new ideas. They are heavy in resources, and light in barriers, silos, and bureaucracy. And, because they operate as cross-functional teams, venture studios are able to support themselves financially, intellectually, and emotionally – attributes that lone entrepreneurs did not have. The isolation of the solo entrepreneur has contributed to the evolution of venture funding, innovation, and the venture studio model. Today, three types of venture studios are taking shape – standalone, internal, and partnerships.

        Standalone, utilizing the resources of expert advisors

        In the age of entrepreneurism, great ideas were explored and given life by individuals who may have then reached out to others for funding and resources to fuel growth and scale the new business. Conversely, a tenet of a standalone venture studio is that at its foundation is a team of experts. The standalone venture studio model perpetually seeks and affirms new ideas and opportunities.? And once an opportunity is deemed viable, the studio recruits a well-rounded team of experienced mentors to rigorously pursue the venture. Over time, venture studios such as DataTribe, develop an ecosystem of resources which include experts, investors, and community and which have the potential to become increasingly efficient and effective over time.

        Internal, backed by a corporation but with autonomy to explore independently

        BigCos are seeing competition from startups and are addressing that by creating space for startups of their own with the goal of bringing innovative products and solutions to market quickly. Kraft Heinz funds Evolv Ventures which has introduced a meal planning tool named Meal Hero to connect consumers to grocery e-commerce. Meal Hero effectively provides shoppers with their own nutritionist and menu planner, and guides their decisions in light of personal health and nutrition goals. Four years ago, CPG giant Procter & Gamble opened its studio Ventures which has brought four brands to market. The most recent is Zevo, a line of people-and-pet-safe insecticides. P&G credits the venture studio model with taking the complexity out of decision-making to deliver impactful solutions in a fraction of the time of standard product rollouts.?

        Partnerships that leverage resources

        Venture studios may also take the form of partnerships, such as the model High Alpha is pioneering. Focusing on innovative software solutions, High Alpha partners with corporations who provide financial resources to support new ventures and bring ideas to market. Its portfolio of investment partners provides funding and helps speed processes and decision-making, and provides founders the opportunity to focus on the idea and the business they are building.

        With dedicated teams and spaces taking advantage of available resources, the venture studio model may be the most expedient and least risky means to bring innovative and compelling solutions to market.

        With the thousands of existing and new products soon to be on display at Natural Products Expo East in September, we know there will be an abundance of actionable insights. Check out some of the preliminary trends we’re seeing pop up as Expo East draws nearer:

        Momentum in Regenerative Agriculture?

        The prevalent topics of regenerative agriculture and sustainability will both be at the forefront as consumers and companies become increasingly invested in the future health of the planet and its habitants. Consumers feel the tension and consequences of short-sighted practices in farming and in the use of materials; and, as a result, brands and retailers of all sizes are implementing immediate changes with a long game in mind. We expect more brands to share stories of ways that they are nourishing the soil and its inhabitants, as well as using innovative packaging and other means to embrace a circular economy and the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Additionally, we hope to see innovation actually reduce packaging waste.?

        Sustainability and Affordable Packaging

        Fast Company recently shared a report from McKinsey that uncovers consumer tension in this area. While consumers are alarmed by plastic consumption and want to address the waste generated, they are not willing to pay more for packaging that is friendlier to the earth. Sustainability-driven chocolatier Alter Eco is a pioneer in eco-friendly packaging and well aware of the challenges in implementation. Their CEO believes that collaboration with other food brands and packaging companies is key to sustainable packaging innovation, in terms of identifying solutions together and partnering to achieve the scale necessary to make any new packaging option feasible and affordable. Alter Eco’s partnership with Numi Tea allows the two brands to generate the volume needed to make the runs of their compostable packaging cost effective.

        CBD in the Spotlight

        Joel Stanley, co-founder of CBD pioneer Charlotte’s Web, shared in a recent interview that the three things that the hemp industry needs most are consumer education, progress in regulation, and research to further understand and untap the potential of the hemp plant. The fact that the Expo East Hemp Pavilion exists demonstrates the proliferation and growing popularity of hemp and CBD products. And the opportunity for attendees and exhibitors to convene opens opportunities for discussion and ideation to meet the industry-wide needs cited by Stanley.

        With natural products growing five times faster than conventional product sales in traditional groceries, it is not surprising that 7 of the top 10 food and beverage brands in the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in America are in the natural and organic category. We are eager to see new product launches from existing brands along with new companies entering the market. Stay tuned for our topics, trends, and takeaways from Expo East, and click here to download our full report from Expo West 2019.

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