Fort Wayne’s Comic Con

appleseed comic con

The Appleseed Comic Con draws comic artists from all around the region to Fort Wayne each year.  But what makes me smile each year is the amazing number of highly talented comic artists from right here in Fort Wayne.  It’s always good to see so many local artists (or in some cases those who studied here and have roots here) creating so many great products.  See you next year!

You can browse through all of the Comic Con artists at http://appleseedcon.com/2013-guest-creators/.   Before you do, enjoy a few pics of some (not all. sorry) of the Fort Wayne artists.

Announcing Knowledge Base!

Kbase Home Page

UPDATE: Knowledge Base is now FREE!  We have turned off the paywall – didn’t feel right to us – and you can now “pay with a tweet” to support Knowledge Base at no cost to you – or donate to support Knowledge Base financially. Oh, and we are up to 221 articles.  Enjoy!

Yesterday Founders launched a new product called Knowledge Base.

So, you know how the internet is stuffed with some really great information about doing a startup, but how it is tough to find.  You often have to fight your way through an avalanche of news stories, the latest editorial gossip and hype, and today’s trending meme just to find it, right?

Well, we decided that it should be easy to find great startup advice.  So we have curated over 200 articles so far – PLENTY more to come.  We categorized them, and we tagged them so they can be found easily (you can search for a word or phrase, too).

And then we decided that because startup people value their time, we would summarize each article.  We write the 1-3 “genius ideas” we found in each article and a “tl;dr” section with a brief paragraph or some bullet points summarizing the article.  Of course, we respect the original authors – we don’t cut and paste, we link out to the original article, and our titles include the author’s name.

So, right now, for example, Knowledge Base includes 69 articles about creating your Product, 60 about Marketing, 52 about Funding – among many others.  Doing an SaaS venture and curious about the metrics to watch?  There are 7 articles for just that.  Managing a launch?  5 articles.  Hiring key employees?  5 articles on hiring process.

I’d say it goes on and on, but it doesn’t – it stops at 203 articles – today.  By the time you read this, there will no doubt be plenty more.  We add new articles each week.

A Marketplace of Ideas

A while ago, at Fort Wayne City Council, Eric Kuhne of CivicArts presented Headwaters 2.0, a vision for our downtown riverfront that builds on Headwaters Park.

Eric Kuhne at Fort Wayne City Council  Headwaters Park 2

In addition to a great civic architectural concept – which would dovetail quite nicely with my friend Kelly Lynch’s vision for Headwaters Junction – Eric presented an almost larger-than-life vision for downtown Fort Wayne.

Even more interesting to me was to hear Eric talk, in the midst of all this, about a concept that sounded awfully familiar.  Eric said that he envisions downtown Fort Wayne as a “marketplace of ideas”.  In our age, as he put it, “A city is more than a marketplace of goods.  It can now be a marketplace of ideas.  It is the true measure of a great city.”  Toward that end, he design of Headwaters 2.0 would bring people together and foster “that magical thing that occurs in a city – accidental encounters.”

When he said that, I immediately thought of Nick Arnett, who had introduced me to the concept of placemaking some time ago.  He had explained placemaking in much the same way – purposefully designing the physical assets of a place (typically downtown Fort Wayne in our discussions) in a way that structurally encourages chance encounters among creative people – to foster innovation and city vibrancy.  Hearing Eric say the same thing made me love the Headwaters 2.0 plan even more.

I also thought of my own business, Founders, where we are building an entrepreneurial community with the same goal in mind.  We are purposefully bringing entrepreneurs, creatives, and independents together in our coworking space – and happily watching as they combine forces to bring new things to life.  By the way, Founders is located within a stone’s throw of the southwest border of the proposed Headwaters 2.0.  We could easily go hang out there on a cool summer evening.  We could recharge our batteries with a walk along the riverfront.  I could ride my bike on the trails and River Greenway through Headwaters 2.0 to about two blocks from Founders.  Sweet!

So, to those who are reading this, I say throw your support behind Headwaters 2.0 and help create that “Marketplace of Ideas” – and a very cool park – here in downtown Fort Wayne!

Innovating, Part 1 – Knowing Your Market

Some friends of mine, Alex LaPrade and Ray Angel, have started an investment fund, Lion Fund.  One of their investment precepts is that market is more important to a startup than team.  The fact that this is contrary to the traditional belief of betting on the team is the subject for another day.  Today, however, I’d like to discuss the similarities between this element of Lion’s investment philosophy and the innovation process I employ and write about.

As Alex puts it in a post titled “A Contrarian Thesis on Startups for the Rest of Us” …

“Before gambling on whether an idea will work or not, start with market research (yes, it sounds like it’s straight out of a 1950′s B School class) and find out what is valuable to this market.  Remember, the more valuable your product or service is (and the bigger the pain point it helps solve), the more you’re able to charge (e.g. more revenue for you and we’re all capitalists, not communists, right?).”

The innovation process I describe in my book Innovation Rules and Tools starts with a step called Discovering Value.  The whole idea is to learn what the various customer segments and stakeholders in the market think is valuable – before you create and deploy your product / service / business model solution.  Like Alex, I think it is just common sense.  Why would I create a solution that is designed to make money until I know what people value (another way of saying pain point)?

Learn What the Market Values by Studying What People Do

The best technique for gaining market understanding is the good old fashioned one-on-one interview – combined with observation.  There is nothing quite like talking with someone (i.e. asking open ended questions and doing a LOT of listening and note taking) for an hour or more and doing a deep dive into their perceptions, beliefs, and values about what they do in that market and how they interact with the product you are designing.

When I talk with customers, I listen for the activities they do (or want to do) – from cradle to grave as they work with the product.  When I hear a new activity, I’ll have them either walk me through it verbally – or beter yet let me observe them doing it.  I learn in depth by asking lots of questions like, “Why did you do that?”, “Why is that important?”, “Tell me more”, “How do you do that”, “Who else is involved”, and more.

Organize Your Market Knowledge by Activity

I like to organize the data I find about a market by the customer’s or stakeholder’s activities.   My colleague Ron Sears at the Design Consortium (I worked with Ron as a protege for 6 years) leads the discussion of his Product Value Matrix innovation process with this …

“The value anyone receives from a product must, by definition, stem from that person’s interactions with the product. If you don’t use, touch or interact with a product in some way, it has no value to you at all.”

If you create a thorough description of each activity (or, as Ron would put it, interaction) for each customer segment or stakeholder group and keep it up to date, you possess a comprehensive guide to value in your market.  I call this “The Book”.  For each activity, it can tell you not only what people want to accomplish, but also what they like, hate, and wish for.

Compare Your Competitors, Yourself, and Your New Concepts

You can use The Book to rate your competitors across each activity, noting what the winner does to achieve success and what the loser does to lose.  Knowing  which competitors do a great (or poor) job with an activity already, how they do it, and why it works (or doesn’t) gives you even more market insight.

You can also use The Book to rate your current product (if you have one) and your new concepts.  This ranking gives you an objective view of where you are behind or ahead.

Even better yet, The Book and ratings will pinpoint for you those activities where no one does a good job today.  These are areas where innovation can have the biggest impact, the areas where your competitors (and even you, so far) don’t seem to understand what it takes to be wonderful.

You are now at the point that Alex described where you are able to tell if a venture idea is wonderful or terrible – or what  I describe makes you ready to start ideation and create a brand new venture idea that is wonderful!


Subsequent posts in this series will describe more about other innovation steps.

For more detail, Innovation Rules and Tools is a practical handbook that describes a complete set of innovation steps that you can use to make innovation happen on demand in your company.  For each step, it describes a set of general rules or keys to success along with multiple tools you can apply from day one.  It is available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com.