Ignore your focus groups, test relentlessly, and other lessons from NU's entrepreneur conference

Some of the the Knight Lab crew spent some time yesterday at the 2013 Entrepreneur@NU Conference yesterday, and I have to say, while we didn’t hear anything ground breaking, the team members in attendance agreed that it was inspiring to be around so much energy, so many new ideas, and so many folks who had built something new.

It was also a good reminder of the trends in technology and startup culture that we try to keep in mind as we discover and work on new projects.

A few thoughts and ideas we liked to be reminded of and wanted to share:

  • Maybe it’s best to ignore your focus groups. Neal Sales-Griffin, a Starter League co-founder, told a story about how he spent a lot of time doing market research before he launched his company and found plenty of folks who said they’d like to apply to the Starter League. But when it actually came time to put money down and invest the time, not one showed up. His lesson: You can talk to people all you want, but the only way to know if they’ll buy is to build a product and see if people sign up. Might the same be true for new content verticals, mobile apps, or other news features? An interesting lesson.(By the way: even though no one from his research groups showed up, more than 600 people have learned to code with Starter League in the last year. Pretty awesome.)

  • Most businesses don’t create new products, said Chris Gladwin, CEO of Cleversafe, but that doesn’t mean they’re not innovative. “Most businesses, the way you reach the market is the real innovation,” he said, “not the product.” The relevance to the news industry here is clear. But just for fun think about Dell, anything involving music, and GrubHub or Seamless. Among these three, there isn’t a new product in sight, but man are there a ton of businesses that made it easier to buy computers, music, and takeout. If that’s not a lesson for the news industry, it’s hard to imagine what is.

  • Test and adjust your strategy. Again, not a new idea, but Mike Samson from crowdSPRING drove the point home with a story about how his company kept changing the way it made money. His team used A/B testing techniques relentlessly and eventually built an award-winning company. He emphasized its value repeatedly, pointing out how this testing technique can be applied to anything from messaging, to payment amounts, to design, publishing schedules, and story promotion, etc.

  • Money. There’s nothing wrong with asking for it. You might be surprised what people will pay for, said Brad Morehead from LiveWatch Security. What’s more, the price people will pay isn’t always directly related to how difficult something is to produce. This is a lesson LiveWatch learned again and again when developing new products. Sure, the news industry is a different animal, but it’s a good lesson and maybe it’ll spark some creative thinking around what people are wiling to pay for.

So that’s it. We sure enjoyed the time we spent with folks outside of our typical cast of characters (lovable though you are). Thanks to Northwestern for a great event!

About the author

Ryan Graff

Communications and Outreach Manager, 2011-2016

Journalism, revenue, whitewater, former carny. Recently loving some quality time @KelloggSchool.

Latest Posts

  • With the 25th CAR Conference upon us, let’s recall the first oneWhen the Web was young, data journalism pioneers gathered in Raleigh

    For a few days in October 1993, if you were interested in journalism and technology, Raleigh, North Carolina was the place you had to be. The first Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference offered by Investigative Reporters & Editors brought more than 400 journalists to Raleigh for 3½ days of panels, demos and hands-on lessons in how to use computers to find stories in data. That seminal event will be commemorated this week at the 25th CAR Conference, which...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial......

    Continue Reading

  • Oscillations Audience Engagement Research Findings

    During the Winter 2018 quarter, the Oscillations Knight Lab team was tasked in exploring the question: what constitutes an engaging live movement arts performance for audiences? Oscillations’ Chief Technology Officer, Ilya Fomin, told the team at quarter’s start that the startup aims to create performing arts experiences that are “better than reality.” In response, our team spent the quarter seeking to understand what is reality with qualitative research. Three members of the team interviewed more......

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More