5 key steps to good innovation – lessons from Start Up Camp Melbourne

I write this from a laundromat in St Kilda, extremely fatigued and keen to hit the hay after the enormous weekend that was #SUCM (or, Start Up Camp Melbourne). The event was based around a simple idea I love – get together with a great group of people, many of whom were strangers or simply twitter associates, and start up a company in a weekend.

So, what we’re my big take aways from the day? What have I learned about innovation and making it happen? Here’s my top 5:

1) Innovation happens best with limited time:

Innovation is something that everyone has. It’s not a special function, and it’s not a gift. The act of creating something new, that provides a new and better solution for an old problem is one that is entirely dependant on the cool people around you to help ideate and the amount of time you have to spend on it.

Ideation doesn’t have to be long. We can get caught up with slick processes and drawn out market research, but in the end there is nothing like a time limit to provoke new creations and group cohesion around a product. At SUCM, we had about 3 hours to form a new company, find a venture idea we liked, register the domain (etc) and then begin planning our attack. If you are stuck with a problem or in an ‘opportunity drought’ try creating a spare half hour, move off for a brainstorm and force yourself to come up with something in the alloted time. You’ll be surprised by the results.

2) Can you exit after 2 days?

This one is a bee in my bonnet. Can you ideate a new venture, do the market research and lay the strategy down, write the business plan, build a working (!) prototype and then…down tools and sell your work to a strategic buyer in the industry you’re new creation was set to play in?

We created the new web-app-service, www.abitofpluck.com. The amazing guys working on the prototype (such as Michael Specht, ‘George’ Provoost, Jason Brownlee, Pieter and John Sherwood) whipped up a working service app that would have (I think) some interest to Twitter. Yes, the business has no traffic, and no brand – but the very fact they experimented with the technology, created a phase 1 working prototype and had about 20 first time users within the first few hours proves the concept may have legs. Would it be possible to sell our progress so far to Twitter for 10k+?

I think it’s a key area for corporate innovation units to focus on in the coming years – both how to find and buy cool immature prototypes from gun innovators OR sell their own internal innovations to existing suitors within the corporate world to leverage new revenue streams and business relationships. Why not?

3) Evaluate opportunities based on revenue streams…not passion

We selected www.abitofpluck.com based largely on the fact that we wanted the challenge of building the business case and prototype for it over the next 48-60 hours. SUCM is largely an experience best used for learning as opposed to revenue creation, so the idea of working on a dull idea which may generate cash wasn’t too appealing to the group. 

We would have created a much more valuable (potentially trad-able value…see point 2) business had we started by picking the idea we could generate the most number of revenue streams from. Not most revenue…but the most streams. In the end, we struggled to find more than 3 real revenue streams for www.abitofpluck.com – in hindsight, we should have brainstormed the maximum number of ways we could generate cash (fast) from our ideas at stage one, and picked the business which had the highest number of associated ways to create revenue.

4) Reduce the risk, increase the comfort

When pitching to the angel investor, Jordan Green, I realised that many of us hadn’t prepared to reduce the risk to the investor, whilst raising their comfort. Whilst this one is pretty ‘pitch’ focused, internal innovation still speaks to the need to be transparent with weaknesses and market threats that may upset the apple cart when your new venture launches.

Especially, I found:

– Highlight your Weaknesses and Threats in your SWOT more than your Strengths and Opportunities. Once your weak points are highlighted, link how you will mitigate them with the inherent strengths and industry opportunities of your venture.

– Openly discuss your Critical Success Factors, and then continue to explain how you will ensure that your venture achieves each one. Ask ‘what would kill our new venture?’ and then find strengths and strategies to meet these success factors.

5) Be agile and tell a story

This is a shout to the talented programers named above who I worked with on www.bitofpluck.com. These guys were able to create what they did (from my perspective) because they had a clear idea of the story needed to be told to the user. By breaking down the venture into a clear story, the guys we’re able to split up the tasks required for the user, and then develop the parts in conjunction. As such, we we’re the only group to present a working prototype at events end, because we only created parts of the business required to get us to the simplest form of opperation. This is an existing methodology, and not particularly new in the tech world.

But, where innovation is concerned, try creating each revenue stream as an addition to the whole user story and then split the business planning process up to ensure that each revenue stream is scoped and contributing towards the creation of a sustainable competitive advantage. Try it out and see. Myself and Duncan Riley found this approach worked well during the event.

So that’s it. All up, the event was pretty amazing and the group of people assembled was top notch. A huge shout out to Bart Jellema for seeding the idea for the group (from Sydney) and leading the charge and to Maxim Shklyar for being the ideal host for the opportunity hungry mob that descended on his studio for the weekend. Top marks also to the aforementioned Michael Specht for playing a large hand in organising the event, and making sure the right people knew of it’s existence. Here’s to the next one!!!

15 thoughts on “5 key steps to good innovation – lessons from Start Up Camp Melbourne

  1. Incredible that you managed to produce not only a coherent piece of writing but an insightful one at that after that monster of a weekend.

    Excellent post and well thought out takeaways, will definately be taking all of this onboard 🙂

  2. Hey Matt, thanks for the comment. I was exhausted but at the same time, still really in flow when my washing was humming along. So I figured I’d sit down and punch it out. Can’t wait to see your post about your experience.

    Ross, next week we sit and decide the future of http://www.bitofpluck.com and who will help drive that future.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Great post, and thanks for the compliments!

    Your pitches really motivated me; it made the idea grow on me and made it easier to keep marching towards that prototype. I’m sure that goes for all of us.

    I’m very glad and proud that the prototype worked, but if it hadn’t been for *one* really nasty problem we would have actually had the real thing live and running for the whole world to enjoy. So we proved once more that gun innovation can actually be done!

    Looking forward to next time; now that we’ve got the idea and understand some of the pitfalls, it’s time develop some routine.

    Here’s my shout out to the Melbourne Angels and any other VC’s out there: sponsor these kind of events big time! Ideally, you would pay participants a stipend big enough to live on so they can do it again, again and again.

    (Not too big though, you only want passionate folks. And yes, I’ll deliver them the message myself.)


  4. Such a great time. I can’t believe I actually got adrenaline rushes a couple of times when things seemed particularly overwhelming.

    I’ve been thinking… a single weekend is just enough to get people interested. We’ll see how much interest we get on our placeholder page for a bit and go from there, I think. It’s good that we had set times to get things done, but I don’t think that 20-something hours is enough to release something to the wild. Also, as a particularly anal UI developer, I don’t want to go to market properly until the thing shines.

    Your two-day exit idea… now that’s pretty neat. The company that buys it would pretty much want to hire you as consultants as well.

    I’d be happy to work with any of you again.

  5. After SUCM, I’m finding myself drawn more and more into everyone’s blogs. Great insights Steve. I was impressed with the event, impressed with the commitment and work from everyone and found myself learning a tremendous amount not only about the process but also about the plethora of potential further dot coms that are cool but also perhaps even money makers (we all need to live).

    Matt’s blog also had some great insights. Keep up the good work guys. I look forward to the next SUCM and hopefully working with you in the future.

  6. Hi Steve

    Thanks for your warm words and thanks for coming, it was great to have you here!

    I agree with you re how ideas are many and how easy it is to implement, at the same time it’s interesting how little this part is in the overall project success. I wonder where it is going – with barriers to entry lowering, barriers to success should rise…
    I like and definitely see the need for Corps to innovate. The overhead that big companies have in their projects will eventually (I hope) force them to change and become effective. And I support the idea of outsourcing – small specialized teams can solve tasks faster easier and cheaper than massive mixed workforce.
    Interesting to see where it’s all going…


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