At the idea stage, most founders are focused on building a product that customers find interesting enough to try. The truth is, proving that the product can provide consistent value to the customer is as important as attracting the customer. After all, a product that seems useless after the first try clearly lacks validation. This is a common situation where marketing and promise are enticing, but the product doesn’t meet customer expectations. Retention is built around data. You need data to understand where the product falls short and the customer loses interest. If you’re launching a new startup product, you don’t have data. But what you can do is analyze your competitors’ products and speak with their customers to map their journey and understand what keeps them using those products or why they decided to look for another solution. Especially in the early days, personalizing onboarding and product experience, even with as simple as a dedicated account manager or salesperson, can not only boost sales but also, it’s an opportunity to listen to customers’ needs and expectations, which will play a key role in understanding what your solution lacks and how it can be improved. Read More >>


Blue Origin, along with its partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, was one of three companies to be awarded contracts by NASA to develop human lunar landers for future moon missions. Blue Origin’s so-called “National Team” is focused on developing a Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA  to support its efforts to return human astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024, and on September 14, 2020 it announced that along with its partners, it has achieved the first crucial step of defining the requirements of the mission, including any space and ground vehicles used.  This is a key first step, which amounts to having established a checklist of thousands of items that will make up the parameters of the National Team’s HLS mission. It means that the company can now move ahead to further NASA reviews and ultimately, the preliminary design phase.  Ultimately, the HLS will be made up of a descent element supplied by Blue Origin, as well as a reusable ascent element provided by Lockheed Martin,  and an orbital transfer element from Northrop that gets the lander in position for its last-leg trip to the lunar surface. Read More >>


New research suggests that there’s a population tipping point for supporting a booming tech industry.  “Become the next Silicon Valley.” So many cities have adopted this goal that it has become a cliché.  Many policymakers want to emulate the economic success of the San Francisco Bay Area by drawing tech workers to their own cities—even if they are relatively small.  Growing cities tend to follow a universal pathway, moving from work that relies primarily on manual labor to jobs that rely more heavily on cognitive labor, the researchers report. In a study of U.S. urban areas, the team found that the tipping point tended to occur when the population reached about 1.2 million. Small cities under that threshold may not be able to build a strong tech industry because they don’t have enough people in other industries—from public transit to laundry services—to support software engineers.  As employees become accustomed to working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s possible that industries suited to remote work, such as tech, will become less tied to particular cities. This shift might alter the universal patterns of urban development.  Because new ideas, by definition, don’t have a defined vocabulary, they usually require some degree of nonverbal communication, which isn’t easily replicated in a Zoom meeting.  How does this finding square with the idea that cities need to pass a certain population threshold to establish strong tech businesses?  Even though these companies are less beholden to population growth than others, a substantial part of their expansion does depend on the number of people in the city.   Read More >>


Necessity is the mother of invention. Indeed, during the global corona-virus crisis, the world needed to move work, education and play to the digital realm very quickly.  Innovation in such times is crucial, but may also increase inequalities among countries, sectors and groups of population.  As the world continues to face a prolonged, massive health crisis, and prepares for the accompanying economic and social shocks, the question of “Who Will Finance Innovation?”, the theme of this year’s Global Innovation Index (GII), is critical in solving the seemingly insurmountable problems ahead of us.  Any crisis calls for a variety of short-term responses to the emergency at hand. But longer-term objectives must be safeguarded. Innovation financing is generally regarded as a long-term investment (especially in science and technology); a growing concern is that it may be sacrificed to more immediate economic and social demands.  The impact of the current crisis on innovation is uncertain and highly dependent on a range of recovery scenarios, as well as business and innovation practices and policies. In any scenario, financial resources – both private and public – will be strained.  Countries and corporations alike might find it harder to pursue investments and innovation. Historically, pandemics have been followed by sustained periods of depressed investment. Investment rates are already low to date, including foreign direct investment, which is now expected to drop sharply in 2020 and 2021.  Fundamentally, the pandemic has not changed the fact that the potential for breakthrough technologies and innovation abounds. The GII continues to support and foster innovation through challenging times. At this juncture, with increased unilateralism and nationalism, it is important to remember that most economies that have moved up the ranks in the GII over time have strongly benefited from their integration within global value chains and innovation networks.  Read More >>


Research shows that in many types of sequential competitions, the order of competitors can have a significant effect on judges’ evaluations. But what effect does competitor order have for startup pitch contests? We conducted four pitch competitions with business student entrepreneurs as a field experiment to determine whether — and how — the order of pitches affects investor interest. Pitch competitions could be similar to persuasive arguments, where the first contestant enjoys a primacy advantage because evaluators often anchor on the first argument, making them less open to different ideas. Or perhaps we would find no order effects at all. Unfortunately, you don’t often get to choose your place in the pitching order. But if you can, do your best to avoid pitching first. This may feel counter-intuitive for some entrepreneurs, as going first may feel like a move that signals initiative and a go-getting attitude — traits that are generally a positive for startup founders. But the research shows that when it comes to pitch contests, jumping into the shark tank first doesn’t pay off. Investors strive to make rational decisions about where their money goes. Once you become aware of the existence of order effects, you can deliberately counteract them by revisiting your initial judgments after all the pitches are complete. Don’t let something as meaningless as pitch order impact your evaluations and cause you to overlook a good opportunity. Read More >>


Covid-19 is an opportunity for businesses to build a new normal that is more human-centric, imaginative and agile. For certain firms, Covid-19 has infused new meaning into the old cliché that a crisis is just an opportunity in disguise. Before the pandemic, digital companies such as Amazon and Zoom were competing not only with incumbents but also with conventions that refused to die, such as the handshake and the clearance sale. Now, Covid-19 has disrupted the old ways, leaving these already cutting-edge firms with even less competition and much more freedom to innovate. Of course, one company’s fertilizer of adversity is another’s manure. For example, the airline industry is struggling to adapt the interiors of commercial airplanes to the demands of social distancing. Indeed, airplane seating has looked much the same for decades. And there are good reasons why. Even minor changes to the internal layout may have serious implications for safety, weight distribution, etc. In short, many incumbents are now confronting design and creativity challenges. To be sure, merging business and design comes with a great many hurdles. Despite these tactical difficulties, Covid-19 is probably the greatest catalyst to innovation the world has seen in a long time. Indeed, success after the pandemic hinges upon business leaders using this unprecedented moment to produce a step-change along three dimensions of innovation: human-centricity, creativity, agility. Read More >>


To get to the top and remain there, businesses must constantly develop new capabilities as they leverage existing ones. Keeping both priorities in play is tricky in the best of times, which is why legacy companies of late have been increasingly outsourcing innovation to tech start-ups via partnerships or outright acquisitions, a trend that has generated tremendous value for start-ups and their investors. However, with economic activity now slowed to a crawl in many sectors, firms have increasingly shifted their focus to short-term survival considerations and longer-term innovation priorities have temporarily fallen by the wayside. One result is that start-ups have been hit especially hard. Interestingly, late-stage start-ups were more pessimistic than early-stage ones, despite experiencing less severe fundraising woes in the pandemic (see below). It may simply be that inexperience breeds an optimism that can survive initial encounters with adversity. Investors, too, do not appear to be thinking beyond the pandemic. Depending on the nature of their business, companies are either busy capitalizing on the market changes produced by the pandemic, or scrambling to adapt. This opportunistic approach may not hold true in other entrepreneurial ecosystems and may also vary as a function of the level of government support.  Read More >>


As an entrepreneur, one may have passion when one is pitching your solution to investors and customers. But passion alone won’t make one more technology pitch stand out above all the rest. Everyone remembers a good personal story. Thus it behooves one to highlight one’s message with a bit of storytelling. Storytelling in business means personalizing communication here and there with anecdotes to highlight important points, and make the message come alive to peers and constituents. It is not about trying to be a stand-up comic, or weaving theatrical tales. Here are some key ways that personal stories can raise the message above the standard sales pitch. First, it is important to show that one is authentic and deserves another’s trust. Sharing stories is the first step to building a real relationship with other people in business, as well as in one’s personal life. Next, it is imperative to connect to people’s emotion as well as logic. When it comes to the art and science of persuading others, one can never afford to forget the power of emotions. At least one study has shown that 90 percent of decisions are made based on emotion, but that people then go back to logic to justify their position. Third is to relate when and where one’s passion started. In most cases, a new startup idea and plan is driven by a specific personal incident that has instilled a conviction about this opportunity. Next is to explain one’s contribution to a higher purpose. It is popular to highlight how a solution contributes to a higher purpose, such as saving the environment or helping the less advantaged. Additionally, it is unfortunate that most elevator pitches, product descriptions, and marketing messages are abstract, and include no characters at all. People remember people, with associated emotions, whether that main person is you, someone you know, or a customer you lost. Weave a real person throughout your message.  Read More >>


The crisis presents an opportunity to dream up new ideas, learn from others, and take bold action. When the pandemic abruptly threw life into disarray, many companies went into triage mode to adapt. If companies are treating this period as a short-term adjustment, they’re likely setting themselves up to fail. But customers have started getting used to these adaptations—virtual meetings, touchless interactions—even preferring them in many cases. The first step, dream, means coming up with concrete goals for the short, medium, and long term. This involves convening a multi-functional team that can jointly create these new goals instead of a top-down approach from leadership. The next step, learn, means looking at what is working both within and outside your company. The bulk of a company’s time—roughly 90 percent—should be spent on the final step of doing. The idea is to get it roughly right quickly, rather than precisely wrong.  Read More >>


I was staring out at a sea—or should I say a grid—of blank faces. It was the town hall portion of our weekly all-company meeting, and an employee asked me directly how long I thought this work-from-home arrangement would last. I gave my unfiltered opinion: I did not see a return to life as we knew it for a couple of years (if ever). I had made a concerted effort to keep spirits high and energy positive in our weekly all-company Zoom calls, but it felt like despite all the positive momentum generated from previous responses to the crisis, with that one revelation, I had just killed the mood of the entire team. As an entrepreneur, working around the clock with the team to save the company was in my blood. Those long days and weeks in March, April, May, and June came naturally to me and to many of my team members who had self-selected to work at a startup. What’s been more challenging is determining how to navigate the transition to this next phase—where working from home is the norm rather than a novelty. In a world where everyday feels like Groundhog Day, and weekends aren’t much different than weekdays, I’m trying my best to provide as much certainty as I can for the team and placing a renewed emphasis on making sure priorities for my direct reports are clear and manageable, and that we expend energy on solving the right problems. We spent a few months building the plane while we were flying it and now it’s time to go back and write the manual. Encouraging employees to work at a more manageable pace (and dismantling the culture of stress and burnout) starts with just talking about it openly. We all have a chance to reset the stage and make work better for our teammates—more flexible, accommodating, and accepting of employees’ full selves and personal lives, including crying babies, screaming kids, and barking dogs. I want to be mindful about preserving the best parts to set us up for future success.  Read More >>

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