It begins with an idea:
An idea that has you so excited, so enthusiastic, so hyped up that you couldn’t stop yourself from putting pen to paper and drafting it up if you tried. You’ve got something inside you that you know is going to relieve the world of an annoying, unresolved torment, and you absolutely have to let it out. Digging deep, you bring all of your experience and insight to bear on the problem and are rewarded with a clear vision of the solution the world is begging you to deliver.
Unfortunately, even if you have the perfect product that will solve the world of a unwanted woe, customers require more than simply being sold a compelling story about how this product will provide relief. It also requires constant and intense listening. Remember: In the lean-startup mindset, you need to fail fast and fail early!
Opening up to feedback (really opening up) starts with understanding your assumptions. The core features of your product are built on them, along with the fears and desires of your target market. Feedback helps to validate or invalidate those assumptions.
Product design is a process of uncertain decision making. You continuously look to identify what information you need next, gather that information, analyze feedback, challenge your assumptions, and repeat. Your challenge is to maximize your time spent discussing, planning, scoping out, and presenting, all the while managing a project that burns cash - Until it doesn’t.
Step One: Follow the Pain
Only provide solutions to problems that are verging on actual physical pain. The level of relief that can be delivered will guide you to where the most value lies.
Our journey at DREAM started with a sharp, strong pain point that we discovered while building the market-leader in blockchain talent platforms. Tech is complicated. It’s hard to convey an entrepreneur’s inspiring new opportunity to the engineers that will implement it.
More often than not (and especially in blockchain) projects fail to get the required talent to deliver on highly-promising ideas. This leads to projects bogging down and failing despite having major funding. We have learned this is mainly due to a breakdown in communication.
Step Two: Do the First Fix by Hand
Deliver personalized solutions to your customers. Sell a real solution before producing a product that scales it. Learn by doing.
At one time, only four out of ten projects promoting their openings on our platform managed to be successfully staffed. This means a staggering 60% did not get their needs met. This was frustrating to the entrepreneurs and also cost DREAM substantial revenue loss.
We worked diligently to solve this by getting personally involved as experts, giving feedback on each project’s scope and descriptions, and helping entrepreneurs to understand and describe their project from a developer’s perspective. This helped them to avoid misusing technical terms, attempting unrealistic projects or overestimating expectations, and preventing them from appearing foolish or nonserious to the expert talent they needed to attract. We were having to manually solve a torrent of problems day in and day out, and we finally realized we needed to scale.
Step Three: Find the Leverage
Get a deep understanding of the problem. Find that one “lever” that enables you to solve a critical aspect of the current situation, and then make it scale.
Freelancers and project managers need a lot of interaction before they can even start on the task at hand. This is time consuming and aggravating for all involved. Why does there need to be so much back and forth, emails, chats, background examination, etc? Because they need enough information about each other to insure they are making the right decision.
This is an across-the-board industry problem. Imagine being in one of these roles, either talent or management - Is it likely this is the first time someone actually gathered the information you just received? ...Probably not!
All the information you gathered, interpreted, and validated is locked into projects and interactions and often contained within a specific platform. Everyone is forced to revisit the same playground over and over, spending time and resources to solve the same problems again and again.
Step Four: Empower Communities
Products solve problems for people. Make sure you enable them to solve existing problems and help them network.
Over the last few years, the open source movement and professional community sites such as StackOverflow have propelled software development to new heights. The most recent advances would have been impossible if programmers were unable to access and reuse existing solutions to difficult problems originating from within the community. Conversely, in many aspects of modern business, considerable time is wasted in repeatedly “reinventing the wheel”.
DREAM decided to enable the founders, entrepreneurs, and project managers to build on proven systems to quickly bootstrap their projects. Instead of teaching best practices, we focused on providing the technical framework to automatically model the lessons learned from success and failure from within the community, and then share those lessons back to everyone. This enables users to scope out projects along proven paths and automatically match talent and projects from a pool of verified, trusted, and proficient experts.
Step Five: Listen to your users
Design for specific circumstances. Users bring their mindset and expectations to the experience. A solution looks and feels different depending on circumstances. Follow their use cases.
To quickly find our first customers (those who we could immediately add value to), we reached out to our “blockchain neighbors”. We already had existing relationships with our later-stage target customers (accelerators and blockchain investors needing to scale their teams), and one of them, SOSV became an equity investor. Then we landed a spot in the ChinaAccelerator in Shanghai and discovered we were surrounded by amazing startups – And they were experiencing the exact pain points we were in the process of relieving.
To stay as agile as possible, we listed our assumptions along the core pain points we had already identified, interviewed the project managers to find out how strongly they felt that pain, and how much they would value a solution in their particular situation. Each interview was approached from an angle that was specific to their project, and each CTO revealed a clear, customizable, and scalable workflow that gave maximum control and minimal repetition and redundancy. Interviewing CEOs revealed the pain was felt around needing to continuously integrate and document process shifts, while growing the company and simultaneously attracting the necessary talent and resources to deliver.
Step Six: Measure Your Impact
Make the value be felt. Once pain is relieved, people quickly forget, but gains are easy to remember. Customers should be able to easily measure and objectively quantify their realized gains.
We discovered we in the sweet spot. The process of work duplication, personal involvement during on-boarding, and the constant struggle to validate a freelancer’s skills and experiences kept many companies from capitalizing on the amazing opportunities available. We had a market that needed servicing.
The existing freelance platforms are easily gamed. Qualifications, trust, and reputation metrics are often derived from single-dimension metrics such as “star ratings” and personal reviews. The utility of these in making critical, informed decisions is minimal. Project leaders overcome this by a great deal of hands-on expertise and by using their own on-boarding routines and “filters”, gained from their industry experience.
CEOs, project managers, and non-technical entrepreneurs are finding they need to deploy high-tech solutions to stay competitive or disrupt existing business models. Technical founders are in a similar position, needing to look for talent in marketing, finance, human resources, and other areas outside their expertise.
From our interviews, we learned of many wasted efforts. Project leaders would bring in what appeared to be promising candidates, only to find their experience wasn’t sufficiently relevant to their projects.
Incorrect technical solutions were implemented resulting in massive work required to subsequently correct them. We discovered project leaders spent considerable time researching technologies and their applications, simply to be able to make an informed decision that an expert would have been able to quickly answer. All of this resulted in wasted resources and time lost getting to market.
Step Seven: Widen Your Markets
Once you’ve handled steps 1-6, you can solve general problems for large markets. Customers will quickly grasp the specific benefits of a general solution for themselves, but they won’t typically share them with you.
You may think just because you solved a big problem that the market will sell it for you. We’re sorry to deliver some bad news, but that almost never happens. Customers also may not easily see other applications for your solution. This is related to the “can’t see the forest for the trees” scenario: When customers are too close to the problem, they may not be able to see how your solution will benefit them. It’s your job to show them how.
Having involved ourselves in a the global network of startups in SOSV and GAN (Global Accelerator Network), we’ve not only heard the problems of many startups in every stage of development, but we were also invited to gain insights into the many pain-points associated with VC investment and fun, engaging, early-stage innovative startups.
Under the SOSV umbrella, DREAM was personally invited to Shanghai by a highly competitive program that only accepts 2% of it’s applicants on average: ChinaAccelerator – precisely because they felt the same pain! Not only are they invested in fast-scaling blockchain startups in need of qualified talent, they themselves are a network of resources and interactions.
With our goal of enabling projects to quickly and confidently engage with the right talent at the right time to assemble high-performing teams, we are solving a problem that could be applied to the “hardware” they were currently running: An ecosystem of talent, mentors, project ideas, capital, connections, and trust.
At its heart, we designed the DREAM Ecosystem “building blocks” to enable:
- Projects to quickly scope out the “building blocks” of talent and skills necessary to meet their goals.
- Align the structure ad process of these “building blocks” with proven paths of successful launches along similar past successful projects.
- Assess the importance of specific tasks in the project to the overall success, and derive the necessary skills and requirements needed to deliver them.
- Assign the tasks to roles within the project’s team, and identify the best talent available to fill those roles.
- Match the various freelancers in order to to best complement their skill-sets and experience, in order to achieve a personal fit and facilitate efficient collaboration.
From accelerators, collaborative spaces, internal innovation networks, and the global freelance market, the connecting solution stays the same. DREAM was tasked with providing the interface with a pool of experience, the framework for continuous collaborative learning within the community, securing data and privacy, and developing the functionality to match and engage custom-fitted talent.
If you are excited about the future of work, decentralized ecosystems, and the ability to quickly launch successful projects using a global talent pool from within a trusted ecosystem – then be sure to follow us!
As CTO of DREAM I will be publishing future articles on:
The State and Future of A.I. in Project Management
Our Solutions to Community Learning Using Inference Under Uncertainty
The DREAM A.I. Bot Ecosystem - How Automated Co-Workers Will Energize the Future of Project Management
The DREAM Knowledge Economy - How We Work to Open Up the Training of Our Core Models to a Distributed Ecosystem of Global Experts, and How This Will Help Shift Back the Power of A.I. to the People
A.I. in a Time of Data Privacy, and How We Use “Privacy by Design” to Safeguard Users
...Thanks so much for reading this! -Frank Fichtenmueller, CTO
Subscribe to DREAM Blog
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox