Monday, January 15, 2007

Why You Need a Good Advisor

Tenuki is still at its formative stage, where big things can come from small moments. John and I pitched friendly to one of our advisory board members in a coffeeshop in the Mission (not Ritual, but good guess). His feedback not only helped crystallized the pitch but actually changed our entire approach to the problem we are trying to solve

When you’re developing a piece of software you’re generally developing it for yourself, or someone very much like you. I think this a problem for a lot of engineers, interfaces that are intuitive to them are nebulous to the average user.

Dan, our advisor, challenged us with this question: how would a blind man use your product?

It’s not a facile question. Everyone lives with a set of assumptions about we interact with the world, and for the most part we assume that others see things as we do. With moral issues, it’s often easy to recognize the perniciousness of our assumed biases as soon as they are challenged by someone else. But for seemingly trivial matters, such as how to interpret a red stoplight, few people stop to consider how much behavioral conditioning affects our reaction.

The blind man question keys into the problem of accessibility. How can we make our service usable by someone who can’t see? But it also encourages us to reconsider the product from a different perspective, a very alien perspective from our own. This is invaluable.

It took me a day or so for the insight to really sink in. Then it hit me in the shower as I was visualizing our pitch to VCs. I suddenly saw the entire demo in my head and how to present it. I called John and he had had a similar revelation a couple hours earlier (he's an early riser, I am decidedly not)

Dan’s insight shifted us away from focusing on a particular embodiment (his words) of our solution, and refocused on the nature of the solution. As a result, we realized that the value of what we had conceived was not where we thought it was and we've refocused on that element. Sorry to be vague, but this early on, you can't let out anything specific.

In any case, the take-away, young entrepreneur: get some good advisors!