How to quickly find out what problems entrepreneurs in your community are facing


I had the pleasure of running a session with Justin Wilcox of Customer Development Labs at UP Summit 2014.

Our goals were:

  1. Give participants a technique they could implement in their community to quickly discover what problems local entrepreneurs are facing.
  2. Using that technique during the session, we want to selfishly discover what UP Summit participants’ biggest challenges were as community builders (so that Startup Genome could build software to help them).

Here’s the technique we used:

  1. Host an event one evening and invite 20 or 30 entrepreneurs. (Alternatively, you could try to run this at the beginning or end of an existing event in your community).
  2. Prepare a Google form like this one. (This is what Justin and I used during the UP Summit. You’ll want to modify it slightly to speak to your local entrepreneurs).
  3. Ask the entrepreneurs to pair-up with someone they haven’t met yet.
  4. For 10 minutes, one entrepreneur interviews the other entrepreneur. Tell them to use the script in the Google form, take notes directly into the form and submit it when they are done.
  5. Challenge them to get through the form at least twice in those 10 minutes. The second time they rephrase question #2 as “What’s another difficult thing about building your community?”
  6. After 10 minutes, the interviewer and interviewee switch roles. If they were interviewing and taking notes first, this time they are getting interviewed.
  7. Next, everyone finds a new partner and repeats steps 3 through 5 a second time.
  8. As you watch submissions come in via the Google Form, you can tally them up in real-time and share the most commonly submitted topics with your attendees at the end.
  9. After the event, start at the top of the list and do something to solve it!

Here are the results of the session Justin and I ran with UP Summit attendees to discover their biggest challenges as community builders:

Top 6 results

  1. Fragmentation and silos in my community lead to lower participation and diversity (19 mentions)
  2. Lack of support from corporations (9 mentions)
  3. Lack of general awareness of events and support for entrepreneurs – particularly in developing cities (8 mentions)
  4. Poor or no succession planning of organizers (7 mentions)
  5. Lack of capital (6 mentions)
  6. Geographically large area, hard for people to travel to events (3 mentions)

It’s worth noting that “fragmentation” wasn’t just the most common problem, it was 2x more common than any other problem.

The rest:

  • – Universities don’t get it / don’t help
  • – Startups in my community don’t do customer development. Therefore, a lot of them fail to build something people actually want.
  • Startups can’t grow locally because they can’t hire enough talent
  • Unreasonable investment terms from investors in my region
  • Sponsors want too much time to talk at events, or too much branding
  • Too much demand on my time as a community builder
  • We lose too may graduates to corporate jobs
  • Local startups don’t have the resources they need to scale
  • Language issues
  • I struggle with articulating the value of startup community events
  • My government won’t support startups / doesn’t know how to
  • Can’t get corporate employees to attend community events
  • It’s hard for founders to find a cofounder
  • We don’t know what local entrepreneurs need help with (hmmmm…)
  • We can’t seem to convert “wantrepreneurs” to jump off the cliff
  • Brain Drain. Talent leaves to go work in a bigger city.

What else should be on this list?

Also, here’s the slide deck Justin and I used to introduce the technique and run the session. Feel free to abuse and re-use. I want to thank Justin for designing the technique, creating the deck and running the session (in other words, doing most of the work).


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