I just came back from running a full-week ‘Where to Play’ workshop for postdocs at the Runway Program by the Jacobs-Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.  This small group of bright researchers are on a mission to found a start-up and commercialize their tech expertise. During the workshop, we go through the 3 steps of the Market Opportunity Navigator so they can get an overview of their potential markets, and adopt a structured process to evaluate and prioritize opportunities.

Whenever I finish a workshop, I always ask participants to write down their 3 key takeaways and share it with the group. I love this exercise because it forces them to connect the content to their own specific situation. I also love it because from time to time I hear insights that surprise me, and indicate the depth of this framework. So here are few of these intriguing takeaways that I heard at Cornell.

The cost of moving in the wrong direction

We always talk about finding your most valuable market opportunities and making sure you are running in the right direction. But the cost of moving in the wrong direction is a different story. In fact, pursuing an inferior market not only decreases your chances of getting traction and generating revenues, it also imprints the DNA of your venture in ways which might be irreversible down the road. So the cost of running down the wrong road may simply be unaffordable for start-ups.

Quantify how much you don’t know

The Market Opportunity Navigator helps you to systematically assess different market opportunities. It provides the key questions to ask, and allows managers to combine endless bits of information into one clear pattern. We designed it to help business leaders bring the right evidence to support their strategic decision. Surely, it’s a learning process, but we seldom think of it the other way around: applying a systematic assessment helps you to understand how much you still don’t know. It confronts you with key considerations that you have not looked at, and limits your chances of setting a strategy based on your own intuition or biases.

Concretize the far future

In recent entrepreneurship literature, ‘planning’ has somehow turned into a ‘dirty word’. Instead, entrepreneurs are encouraged to look for small, validated steps. Imagining the far future of the venture in a concrete manner therefore goes against this common reasoning. That is why I was happy to hear this insight. In fact, being able to see the bigger picture offers some real advantages to early stage ventures. Mainly, it allows them to adopt a ‘portfolio mindset’ while focusing, thus helping them to avoid a fatal lock-in. Moreover, it doesn’t even matter if down the road this plan will not be pursued, as it anyway helps managers to bake agility into the DNA of their venture.

Of course there were many other insights discussed around the table that day, but I found these 3 to be especially interesting, as they are not that trivial.

My three takeaways

Once founders share their lessons, I share with them my own list. It includes the 3 main insights that I want them to take from this process. Here it is:

  • The advantage of a structured process
  • The benefit of seeing the BIG picture
  • The process is simple. Applying it is more complex…

I hope these insights help founders and managers that struggle to prioritize market opportunities for their business, especially in such an uncertain world.

Good luck 🙂