Concept Academy: Market Development on Steroids – Part I

This is Part I in a three-part series about Concept Academy.

Most startups fail—at least in large part—because they make products that no one wants.


This is a bold and perhaps stark statement and not something that any entrepreneur dreams of hearing. Don’t believe it’s true? How many of the new 1,010 apps uploaded to the Apple or Google app store did you download today? For most, the answer is zero.

Let that sink in for a moment. Most startups are creating a product or service that customers don’t want to buy or use.

It then stands to reason that if an entrepreneur is planning for success (and I’ve never yet met an entrepreneur who gets up in the morning planning to fail), then the sooner he or she can validate (or invalidate) a concept with real customers and real markets, the better.

Concept Academy – A Market Validation Model to Drive Different Results

In building the model that became Concept Academy, we started from the thesis that most products people are building are not compelling to the world and the target audience in particular.

Further, we figured that since 90 percent (or more) of startups fail, largely from lack of customers, we couldn’t help bend the curve for Columbus’ startups and entrepreneurs by simply finding a better way to do the same things that people have been doing for years.

So we put aside our methodology (which was built on the then-best practices) and create an entirely new approach based on an entirely different set of assumptions, assumptions that are contrary, even contentious, when held up against conventional early stage practices.

We changed our mindset and we insist that Concept Academy companies be willing to change theirs too.

1. Stop believing in your gut instinct.

To an entrepreneur this sounds like heresy. Every entrepreneur knows that early adopters, critical hires, and investors (including friends and family) look to the entrepreneur for leadership and confidence. You have to be passionate about your vision, assumptions, knowledge, otherwise how will you ever muster the determination, energy, and hopefulness to power through the never-ending challenges of starting a company.

Instead of aiming all that energy and creativity at promoting and pitching a cool product the entrepreneur has already dreamed up, Concept Academy asks entrepreneurs to go back to the beginning and prove their product is actually compelling to their target audience. Entrepreneurs must apply their vision and passion to finding out as much as possible about product market fit in a competitive marketplace.

It’s an intensive, three-day program to gaining actual target market data, individual customer data, and features validation to allow entrepreneurs to envision a solution that customers say they would want to buy—a solution that reduces pain or grows revenue for customers with money to spend.

2. We don’t care about your product so don’t try to convince us (or your target market) how great it is.

It doesn’t matter to Concept Academy whether you have a napkin scribble or a $100,000 prototype. We don’t actually care about your product—not about how far along it is, or how good, or even if you have protected IP. We don’t care because the rest of the world doesn’t care…at least not yet. Chances are, we’re not even your target audience.

The job of Concept Academy is to help entrepreneurs figure out what would make the target market really care—what solution, against what type of problem, sold through which channels, and at what price.

Instead of relying on intuition, a great technology, or what your family, friends, attorney, or college advisor thinks, Concept Academy compels entrepreneurs with laser-like focus to gain actual customer data that will allow them to discover the real truth about their concept.

If an entrepreneur can go along with this approach and in an intellectually honest way, then it becomes Rev1’s job, via the Concept Academy model, to teach entrepreneurs how to prove (or disprove) that they have a solution that people want to buy.

3. In the beginning, hands-on data-driven market validation is all that matters to start.

Turn around is fair play. We love it when entrepreneurs don’t care what we think either. Sorry Mark Cuban, we’re out of the celebrity judging business. Our opinion about a concept is as irrelevant as your brother-in-law’s. Our dictator is the target audience.

In Concept Academy, we teach entrepreneurs how to validate their products through a data-driven approach that involves surveys, interviews with customers, and hands-on industry research.

The goal is to validate the ideas that the entrepreneur came with by taking a clean-sheet approach and finding out what are the target market’s problems and opportunities.

Concept Academy Completes First Full Year

Concept Academy just concluded its first full year of operation of a session every two months. Each session is 3 full days over a two week period. Of the 145 startups that attended the six sessions, 68 startups achieved market validation. Concept Academy graduates raised $4.8MM in capital.

But let me be clear. The purpose of Concept Academy is not to position a company to raise capital. Sure, funding is a great by-product. However, the purpose is to create great products, downright inspiring, that customers want to buy or use.

For successful advanced technology businesses, the problem must be well-understood by lots of potential customers in very large markets—customers who are willing and able to act either to halt pain or grow revenue. Customers with budget. Customers that the entrepreneur can reach.

When a startup reaches a target audience with ideas for the right product and the right feature set, Rev1 will get behind that entrepreneur and support them with the full power of our talent, connections, and capital to help accelerate that company’s success.

And when a Concept Academy entrepreneur hears from customers that their dream, vision, or perfect solution wasn’t perfect at all and isn’t wanted in the marketplace, Rev1 either helps the company change their product for higher probability of success or, if there’s no breakout market interest, we work with the entrepreneur to move on (sometimes to a more compelling new product).

In any of these three cases, an entrepreneur who completes Concept Academy has become more sophisticated. They have learned a repeatable validation process, and a customer/market-driven model that can help the next time they have a new bright idea.

And true entrepreneurs never have just one idea for a company.

Mike leads Rev1 clients through a rigorous process of Concept Validation, delivering the advice, guidance, tools, and sometimes the capital to eventually build inspiring products and services. The former CEO of ShareThis and serial entrepreneur, Mike has helped manage and grow products within companies that became household names, such as Netscape and America Online. Mike has a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University.