Focus, Focus, Focus: from great idea to MVP in one (not so) easy lesson

Last week’s Lean Startup Melbourne session explored what it takes to turn your great startup idea into a minimum viable product (MVP) before launching in the market. And as the entrepreneurs pitching their product ideas soon found out, it’s all about focus: on the problem you are solving, on the solution you are offering, and on connecting with your target customer.


The evening’s event was once again hosted by Inspire9, and generously sponsored by BlueChilli, and the ever-entertaining and animated Kussowski Brothers, along with newcomers Startup Victoria and Xero.

As well as a panel comprising 4 of Melbourne’s leading startup experts, there were a couple of lightning talks from Sidekicker and Attendly on how to find a tech co-founder, and how to identify your customer respectively.

On to the evening’s brave pitchers:

First up was ClassWired, a platform for helping ESL classes go digital. Building on personal and professional experience, the product aims to make ESL lesson content more social and the student experience more personal. The challenge is that the ESL market is divided between a handful of major players (who are easy to identify, but could leverage their scale to deploy their own solutions), and a large pool of independent teachers (who are harder to reach). While a need may exist for more interactive ESL content, the panel felt the revenue model lacked clarity, and as yet there was no compelling reason for customer adoption. ClassWired could establish some differentiation through superior instructional design, or by building content development tools for use by tutors.

Next came a presentation by Reflow, which entertained and baffled in equal measure. The product is designed to handle high-volume messaging traffic, from sensory, mobile and web sources across logistics, apps and environmental monitoring. Although the pitch was deep on technical domain knowledge, and again drew heavily on personal and professional experience, the panel was unclear as to the precise problem being addressed, and the solution being offered. Talk of “virtual hair dryers” and “sensory message overload” only helped to confuse the audience. Maybe there are opportunities in outsourcing, or in data analytics – but with cheap and plentiful hosting capacity out there, Reflow needs to find some focus.

Changing tone and gears came StillReel, which streams digital art to an LCD monitor near you. With the idea of bringing limited-edition digital artworks to a wider audience, StillReel offers a monthly subscription model, and is exploring the consumer, commercial and corporate markets. Leaving aside the concept of scarcity value in digital art, the overall feedback suggested that the market needs to be clearly defined, and the offering made more explicit. Is it simply art? Is it entertainment? Is it pandering to the elite? From my perspective, Brian Eno has created a different model via 77 Million Paintings, and no doubt social media is already “liberating” digital art and video from the galleries and museums.

Curated shopping service, YourGrocer offered the best and most succinct presentation on the night, and told a great story about how the experience of “validation in Brunswick” has helped them build a viable business connecting local grocery outlets with time-poor customers. With several options for revenue streams, supplier partnerships and even a franchise model, YourGrocer could be spoilt for choice – but like everyone else, they need to focus (and decide whether they are a community service, a social enterprise or a commercial venture).

Finally, MeetLinkShare offers virtual data rooms – a service somewhat clumsily describing itself as “The Swiss Army Knife of Mobile Collaboration”. Having built a proven platform for secure team-based document and content sharing (including annotations, tags, custom fields, multimedia and version control etc.) the team is now contemplating two significant (but quite separate) market segments: 1) Virtual Data Rooms for SME’s and 2) Private Tutors. They are also seeking a new round of funding. Again, the panel’s recommendation was to find their customer focus, although with some smart and distinct branding, it’s possible that MeetLinkShare could service both markets.


Having a great idea is not enough – as I learned very early on in product development, there may be an opportunity in the market, but is there a market in the opportunity? A couple of things missing from most of these presentations were:

  • a clear definition of both the upstream and downstream markets;
  • an understanding of the customer value chain (and how to monetize it); and
  • the specific contribution that each product, service or solution brings to their chosen domain.

It was also apparent that each of the pitches have opportunities across indirect applications, or within adjacent markets – so part of the challenge is knowing how to gain sufficient traction in one segment that will provide momentum (and relevance) to move into the next growth phase.

Disclosure: The author is not affiliated with any of the businesses mentioned in this blog, although he does acknowledge the receipt of 2 free beers and a couple of slices of pizza from the organisers.