Class was canceled on 2/9/17 on account of a blizzard in New York City. Given that we were requiring students to complete more than the 100 interviews that are usually required for a Lean LaunchPad course, we didn’t require any work the week of 2/9/17 and allowed them to enjoy the snow!
Between, this class and last class, we also saw Team ReAct disband due to some of the members needing to drop the class. Fortunately, the team members that wanted to continue to participate in the course were able to join Team AggregEn. We now have five teams participating in this course.
We started class by discussing the concept of Minimum Viable Product. In PowerBridgeNY and I-Corps, we encounter many entrepreneurs that feel they need a finished product to show their customer to determine if it is viable. The students in the Hacking for Energy class are no exception. Many of them have discussed the need to develop their prototype before or during the interview process. We stressed to the students that the Minimum Viable Product does not need to be perfect. If an entrepreneur develops a final product before customers see it, they could discover that they have wasted unnecessary man-hours by building a product no one wants. A Minimum Viable Product should intentionally be sparse, with just enough features so that the customer understands what you are trying to create, and can provide feedback on its relevancy to them. Through an MVP, the students should be able to gather whether their proposed solution has value with their intended customer, and whether that customer is willing to pay for it.
Student Presentations - Week 5
This week, we asked the teams to delve into their customer archetypes and identify each archetype on separate slides of their presentation.
Here are some highlights from week 5:
Some of the teams struggled with the customer archetypes. A teaching team member stressed that the students should “remember that you are always looking to make your customer archetype as specific as possible.” The more specific the archetypes, the easier it will be to map out the value drivers.
One team kept mentioning that reducing emissions would save money for their potential customer. An entrepreneur instructor pushed on that, asking multiple times, “How are they saving money on emissions?”. After a back and forth, the student clarified that the clients would save money due to fuel economy and that emissions reduction was a positive (non-monetary) side benefit. The exchange was a great example of how instructive this course can be, because the entrepreneur instructor, through the back and forth questioning, guided the student to more to more accurately describe the value propositions for their solution.
Here are this week’s presentations:
First on deck was Team Li-ionNYU. They had eight interviews this week, and defined two customer archetypes: universities and big delivery companies. It was nice to see the team expand beyond universities, and they did a nice job of outlining how universities and big delivery companies differ in their buying decisions. However, the customer archetypes they presented were still too broad. Customer archetypes need to be individuals (i.e. CFO, facilities manager, etc.) who have specific jobs to accomplish and not (as this team presented) organizations.
This team also had a revelation this week by figuring out that they might not be selling their product directly to a university but an intermediary that sells to universities. Their plan for next week is to interview green vehicle vendors to see if their solution would be of value to them. We were happy to see this team think outside the box beyond their original Industry Host and perceived customer. It is a sign that they are taking the LLP methodology to heart.
Next up was Team AggregEn. As we reported last week, this team did a major pivot with their customer segment, deciding to see if their solution would be of value for the financial industry. This week, they dove into testing this hypothesis by interviewing individuals who look at energy pricing data, including investors and pricing professionals at utilities. They learned that much of the pricing data that exists is not segmented by location, and they have a potential opportunity to provide more granular data for investors. What they are still determining is what segment of the financial industry would find their data most valuable (they learned this week that it would not be useful for equity traders) and they will continue conducting interviews to narrow their customer archetypes. We were impressed with how much they have learned from their interviews, but still felt like their Business Thesis was still not quite there.
Next was PowYorker. They did 8 interviews this week. Last week, this team figured out that they needed to expand their original perceived single customer, utilities, to include other contractors that sell to utilities, such as sensor aggregators. They presented engineers and electric utilities, water utilities, and sensor aggregators as potential archetypes, but we felt that they were still throwing lots of ideas on the board and hoping one sticks. We also saw that they are still focusing too much on their technology and we strongly suggested that they think about it less, and spend more time narrowing down who their customers are and understanding their needs.
Next was Sustainable Catalyst Group. They had a strong number of interviews (17 in 2 weeks) giving them the highest interview count for this week. The team presented that their solution would be for a two-sided market - both distributed generation owners and producers. Then they classified their archetypes based on those two markets, identifying 3 archetypes under the EV Users bucket and 3 archetypes in the energy producers. We were impressed with the level of detail they used to describe their archetypes, but we mentioned to them that we still felt like the primary customers (EV Users and energy producers) seemed too narrow and they might not be able to make a profit with such a small number of customers.
The final presentation of the day came from Team EVE. This team did 10 interviews this week, and presented very detailed slides about the customer archetypes, breaking them down into two main categories: Institutional (the installer of an EV charger) and the secondary (the user of an EV charger). Though we were happy to see a lot of detail in these CAs, we could tell that this team is still trying to figure out what their Value Proposition and Business Thesis are. One insight they learned in their interviews is that, when a commercial entity buys and installs an electric vehicle charger, they need to contract with multiple vendors: one to install, one to fix, one to maintain. They learned that this was a definite pain that their solution could potentially help solve.
Energy Lecture: Week 5
This week, as the teams learned about how to build customer archetypes and determine how those customers make decisions, Prof. Bradford taught the students about how some decisions are made by companies in the energy industry. Some highlights from the lecture:
Lessons Learned from Class 5: