In his book “The Startup Owner’s Manual,” Steve Blank famously says, “there are no facts inside your building, so get outside.” As entrepreneurs, we must constantly remind ourselves to put down our soldering irons, servos and text editors in order to go outside to talk to actual customers. This activity realigns our world view with our marketplace; it’s how we make sure we’re building stuff that people are actually going to use.
At The Creative Coast, we’ve recently spent a lot of time outside, talking to our customers: creators, innovators, teachers, students, makers and business leaders. This “customer discovery” has helped us construct our own next generation product. We’ve always focused on creating and fostering connections between clever people, but we’re about to get a whole lot better at it.
For years we’ve sponsored and hosted a variety of events, from pitch competitions to small business open houses to full on, multi-day conferences. We’re not going to stop doing this stuff, because events are great places to create collisions between clever people. But that’s a wide angle approach, and sometimes you need to zoom in to pixel view.
We want to foster more timely, relevant connections on a more individual level. For example, if you’ve invented a flying car, we’d like to connect you with folks that can help with patents, prototyping, manufacturing, marketing, etc. But that’s too much to deal with all at once, and it’s important to deal with all of it in the right order.
So we want to take more of a case management approach with our creators and innovators. With the proper processes and systems, we can empower our staff and volunteers to act as intelligent hosts, predicting what you’re going to need next and proactively setting up introductions. So instead of dropping by an event and hoping you meet someone helpful, we can let you know exactly who you should talk to and help make sure you meet up.
For this kind of system to work, we need a strong ecosystem of organizations, events, mentors, advocates, consultants and service providers. If we’re the connectors, we need the connectees. Luckily, Savannah has a great ecosystem already. There are literally hundreds of programs, classes, luncheons, bootcamps and meetups offered by a wide variety of educational institutions, governmental entities and private enterprises. In addition, we’ve fostered a huge network of technologists, makers, marketers and bean counters that volunteer their time to assist others. There’s a lot available, it’s just hard to find the right thing at the right time without some kind of... magical concierge service. See what I did there?
There are still some holes in our ecosystem that need filling. Talent production is often mentioned: If we want more innovators, we need to make sure kids in every local school get to see creative professionals in action. But that’s another benefit of our next generation approach. We can spot these holes early and work with our ecosystem partners to fill them before we’re caught flat footed.
When will this new concierge service hit the Savannah market? In true startup fashion, we’ll build a MVP (minimum viable product) in the next few weeks and start testing it with real customers. We’ll probably pivot more than a few times before we find the correct product/market fit. But when we get it right, we’ll have something that will supercharge our innovation economy and accelerate the commercialization of creative efforts.
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Blake Ellis is a board member at The Creative Coast and has been involved in dozens of Savannah-based start-ups including Color Maria, CommerceV3, Rails Machine and RappidApp. Ellis can be found online via Twitter at @blakeellisjr or via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/blakeellis.