Jumpstarts

A new way to start products and ventures

Friday afternoon. A meeting room somewhere in Amsterdam erupts in applause. In the room: four investors, witnessing a pitch for a completely new kind of coffee maker. Also in the room, the product team: the pitch owner, an industrial designer, and a couple of prototypers.

The applause is real enough: some of the investors are on board right away. The pitch, built around a set of prototypes including a 3D-printed coffee machine with sensors and a round touch display, a mobile app, and a web based marketplace, more than convinced them. It marks the start of a rollercoaster startup journey.

This pitch was not the culmination of a year-long project. Instead, it was the outcome of a single week that started with nothing but ideas and an itch. The week’s outcome was an evocative prototype — but more importantly, it created the kinetic energy needed to set a big visionary plan in motion.

This single week was what we at Q42 call a jumpstart.

What it means to jumpstart

A jumpstart at Q42 is:

  • a short, intensive, fast project
  • to bring to life a big vision that needs to get ‘unstuck’
  • by way of a working prototype
  • with a small team of prototypers and business owners in a war room
  • and hard deadlines at the end to present to real stakeholders for real investment.

The outcomes — a prototype, a bunch of energy and a ton of learnings — are the things that help activate an organization or stakeholders into taking next steps.

Short, Intensive, Fast

Jumpstarts last one week. Sometimes two. Never longer. They are bursts of really intense energy. Great jumpstarts have someone on the team who, besides making things, also facilitates, mostly by maintaining breakneck speed. This person relentlessly pushes forward to keep ideation light on its feet and have the team surf its subconscious creative ideas. They also make sure there’s a clear structure to the week, from hour to hour. Bad jumpstarts allow for vagueness in planning.

Big vision

Jumpstarts need a big vision; long lines of sight. Playing small serves no one. If it’s not big and bold and ambitious, at Q42, it’s not a jumpstart. It can still be a sprint 0, a proof-of-concept project, or a big feature story on a backlog.

Get unstuck

Jumpstarts work when they scratch an itch. For small companies, it’s often having a dream so big it’s hard to get started given budgetary and other limitations. Bringing to life a dream in actual prototypes, even if it’s nowhere near done or final, really helps get to the next step.

For large companies, especially incumbents in older industries, the itch is often where leadership fears rubbing stakeholders or shareholders the wrong way. We ask leaders: “what can’t you work on? what is illegal in your company?”. They’ll say “everything’s fair game, we can go where we want to innovate”. Until, together, you find words for where they really can’t go. For a news site, ignoring editors and creating algorithmic news was a non-starter. For a logistics companies, to bypass the infrastructure they’ve invested in. It’s those unwritten rules that are exactly the ones that need to be broken to move forward. Sometimes it’s best to create your worst enemy.

Working prototypes

A jumpstart is all about making things that actually work. Things made of code, things that have weight in your hands. Paper prototyping is a waste of time. The more real a prototype is, the more undeniable it is and the more likely it is it’ll move forward and grow.

To get working software or hardware prototypes done within one or two weeks requires an new engineer/designer/maker skillset. Prototypers at Q42 are often generalist coders with a big horizontal bar to their T-Shape. Sometimes they’re interaction engineers. Often they’re people that like to use their hands for more than just typing on a keyboard. Invariably, they work from the intended user’s vantage point. A key skill is to be able to code at the same pace you have discussions and make ideas flow. Realtime programming, if you will. This is rare, for skilled programmers are not always the most relentlessly pragmatic ones.

Small team war room

You’ll want a team of no more than 6 or so. Small teams help cut out all deliverables, sticking to just talking and whiteboard sketches — ensuring everyone is fully tapped into the high-speed learning as it happens.

Key is to have engineers and business owners side by side. Not project managers, but the folks that call the shots: budget holders, VPs/C-suite people. Short-circuiting them to engineers and other makers works wonders. It creates energy and purpose — especially if facilitated well (see ‘short, fast’).

Make sure you are surrounded by your ambition. Plaster the walls with evocative stuff, ambitious imagery of the dream you’re making reality. Keep things simple process wise— a wall with stickies under ‘to do’ and ‘done’ is enough. Get plenty of coffee and sugary snacks as brains will be working overtime.

Hard deadlines

Finally: create hard deadlines. It can sound ridiculous given it’s only a week, but invite real customers, real investors, people who you do not want to fail in front of. At the end of the week, do a real pitch/demo/whatever the outcome of your jumpstart is for them, with a real risk of failure. Have the business owner book them well in advance and ask them to keep the timeslot clear at all cost. Give invitees an (implicit) power to make or break the outcome. Will end users’ eyes light up when they use what you made? Will investors pledge at the spot?

If you run a two-week jumpstart — which is really difficult, by the way, in terms of keeping the speed and energy level up — you might schedule deadlines at the end of both weeks.

Jumpstarts everywhere

At its core, a jumpstart is a way to create movement. There’s more ways and tools to do that, like the Design Sprint from our friends at Google and Adobe’s Kickbox. Our twist is to set a new bar for the outcome: real, working prototypes.

At Q42 we’re doing more and more jumpstarts, and secretly we’d like to use them for everything. We’d love for you to do your own jumpstarting too, because we all need to get the world unstuck.

See some examples below, read more on our website, or drop us a line to chat about realtime prototyping and getting unstuck.

Jumpstarts we’ve done at Q42

PostNL, the Dutch postal company, used jumpstarts to create new services and explore better business models.

Spinn wanted to create a completely new kind of coffee maker and did a jumpstart to pitch investors.

Shell used a jumpstart for new VR-based exploration of new facilities to give employees and investors alike a peek into what was going to be.

Swisscom experimented with a motivational personal goals app based on behavior nudging.

Game of Drones ran a jumpstart to popularize drone sports by bringing to life what drone flying schools and drone racing look and feel like for mainstream audiences.

illustrations: @rilemtwit