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Beyond the Pitch

Concept Academy Helps Concept Companies Figure out the Direction They Want to Go

Concept Academy

Results exceeded expectations for the inaugural session of Rev1 Ventures’ new Concept Academy.

The Academy is designed specifically to help companies figure out:

  • a direction for their business,
  • initial market segments,
  • product features that are the most likely to satisfy customer needs in those markets, and
  • a process for collecting direct customer feedback and modifying the company direction and features accordingly.

The Rev1 venture team has been working internally and with industry experts for much of the last year to develop the scalable concept validation process for Concept Academy.

20 Classes of 1

Concept Academy deals with about 20 concepts at a time, but each participating entrepreneur or company works only on their own. There are three full-day working sessions held at Rev1 plus extensive out-of-class assignments spread over three weeks.

“If you come to Concept Academy, you will work on your product the entire time with a lot of rigor, deep thinking, and strong effort,” said Venture Advisor Mike Blackwell. “That’s why we refer to Concept Academy as 20 classes of one.”

The Concept Academy process makes participants get very clear about their target audience and about whether or not that audience is interested in a product with a specific set of features that the company wants to build.

“This model helps entrepreneurs validate their concept in a way that leads them to build the features that matter most to the end user,” said TJ Faze, a member of Rev1’s venture acceleration team who participated in the first session much as a Rev1 client would.

Making sure that the company solves a problem that really exists

Day One of Concept Academy begins with analyzing the marketplace problem that the entrepreneur is trying to solve. That conversation begins with the entrepreneur describing the target market as he or she believes it to be.

In the next part of the session, entrepreneurs imagine that they are the potential users and buyers in the concept company’s target market. They imagine how such users would want to interact with the product and what features they would want to see.

“The people in the inaugural Academy session poured their hearts and minds into this,” Faze said. “They came up with 30, 50, even more than 100 possible features.”

The next step is for the entrepreneurs to rank those features and validate the best of them in the marketplace.

“This is the roll up your sleeves and do the work part,” Blackwell said. “We ask hard questions in several breakout sessions that the entrepreneurs have to get the answers to. Those questions are rigorous and tough and when entrepreneurs do the work to get the answers, they gain insight into what they need to do to improve their probability of success.”

Concept Academy teaches entrepreneurs how to hone in on the product and market and get honest feedback: What problem are you solving? Who are your user, supplier, and buyer? What features would make the specific user that is most critical to the company’s success use the product?

There are lots of ways entrepreneurs can go after answers—surveys, whether individually, online, or with a focus group; interviews, or competitive analysis to suggest a few.

“The Academy teaches how to ask for feedback in an unbiased way, but beyond that, people have a lot of autonomy. It’s not so much about which tool they use,” Blackwell said, “as the rigor to apply the intellectual honesty getting to the right answers.”

The challenge, of course, is that the entrepreneur might not like the answer. He or she may have a vision for a product with features that no one wants to buy.

“Even if you find out that your product is not desired,” Blackwell says, “you’ll be better for going through the process and you’ll exit the Concept Academy being a more sophisticated entrepreneur. You’ll know how to validate your next idea and how to tweak out the features that really matter to the marketplace. You’ll have a process for creating inspiring products that people want to use.”

And all this gets accomplished before the company spends a lot of time, money, and creative energy building products real customers don’t want.

Some teams in the inaugural Concept Academy were close to having a solidly defined product. Others had their outlook turned completely upside down; and then there were many companies in between.

Many of the companies entered Concept Academy focused on moving from idea to building. However, once in Concept Academy, they completely changed their focus to first proving their features were desired by the target audience. The result was profound as companies were able to identify and make significant improvements to their solution well before they built their prototype.

Goal: Model 150 concepts during the next year

“In the concept validation process, you attack some very critical knowable unknowns before you seek seed funding, such as, does anyone care about this idea,” said Wayne Embree, Rev1 EVP of Venture Acceleration & Investment. “When you do seek funding, you’ve achieved a critical objective—knowing your true customer and market, which significantly lowers the risk and costs of launching your business.”

Concept Academy is at the front end of Rev1’s intake process. One really interesting aspect of the model is that it is suitable for companies at diverse stages of development—from pre-prototype or even newer to companies that are evaluating a new product line.

When a Concept Academy company graduates with a set of defined features validated by potential customers, the Rev1 Venture Acceleration team stands at the ready to help entrepreneurs develop and validate the business plan to make the concept a reality. Rev1 Labs may be a great place for the company using all these Rev1 services to locate.

Rev1 Ventures is targeting 150 concepts to go through the Concept Academy over the next twelve months or so. Could one of them be yours?

Contact us about enrolling in Concept Academy.

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