Entrepreneurship, Innovation

A Successful Entrepreneur’s Most Valuable Sense

As a participant in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps Program for Learning (I-Corps L), I have discovered the successful entrepreneur’s most significant sense.  It’s something that we all have but few of us have seldom discovered how valuable it is and how to use it to grow our impact and potentially a tech startup’s bottom line.

As part of our I-Corps L program, we are asked to interview 100 potential customer’s of our proposed product.  The HEIR Corps Team that I lead as the Principal Investigator on our grant project is working to develop a low-cost humanoid robot and curriculum to provide to under-resourced schools to teach science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and computer science.  We began this journey for customer discovery using the lean startup NSF is teaching us on January 7, 2015 and today we hit a significant milestone: our 100th customer interview.

What was surprising to me on this significant day was that I am still being surprised and delighted by what I’m learning from our potential customers.  The challenge is to keep taking what we learn from our customer and incorporating it into our Value Proposition, or what we are promising our customer’s to deliver for them, and into our Minimum Viable Product (MVP), or low fidelity prototype of our product.  Our MVP is our MU-L8 humanoid robot, the first version of our socially interactive soccer playing robot which we anticipate will become the “grandfather” of our first beta release of our product.

So what is the successful tech startup’s most valuable sense? The sense of hearing.  The hearing I speak of is using our ears to actively seek to listen and understand not only what another person is saying but also what they are thinking, feeling, and doing.  Hearing is really trying to understand that person’s felt needs, desires, and problems before providing them a solution.  Active listening is being destroyed by the habits of some smartphone users in some ways, because an active listener will never let a phone vibration or text alert take their attention off the person they are listening to.  Interrupting our active listening time with another person to answer or read a text message is a subtle message to them that what they are saying is not really that valuable to them.

When I first heard of the requirement to perform 100 customer interviews, there was something in me that didn’t think it was necessary or would be burdensome.  What I have discovered is that I am usually energized and enlightened by the stories they share, the challenges they face, and the passion of overcoming. In these customer interviews, I am discovering the most innovative ideas because I’m hearing nuggets of wisdom formed by their rich and deep life experiences. This vital sense of hearing is not just for successful entrepreneurs.  It’s the most important sense for increasing the joy of human understanding and learning.


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