Ideation & MVPs
Founding Story: I joined an exclusive entrepreneurial program during my last year of college called the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at IDC Herzliya. Within the program, we grouped into teams of 3-4 people and started working on startup ideation. While these programs are usually meant to be academic, this one is different. During one of the first few weeks, Zell had a joint exercise with the R&D department at Sears Israel. There we were given 4 hours to come up with an retail / e-commerce idea and pitch to a panel of executives. We pitched an idea of using user generated content from social media for e-commerce purposes. We won 1st place. Bllush was born.
Validating Initial Assumptions: During the year, we worked on validating the core assumptions of our idea. We had some resources at our disposal like weekly office hours with advisors, investors and a $5,000 budget for us to use at our discretion. We interviewed influencers and did emailing campaigns to test the supply side of our marketplace idea. We flew to an e-commerce conference in London to attempt to validate the demand side. The initial feedback from all parties is that the idea had enough merit to continue working on. The ultimate value came down to if using Instagram-style photos vs model photos would actually convert more users and justify integrating the solution. We launched a series of landing pages to test this.
Wizard of Oz MVP: A big conceptualisation of Zell is the Lean Startup: talk to users, validate assumptions, test, test, test. Grandiose and R&D-heavy projects were not encouraged in those times. It was more about finding any product need, and then working hard to solve it in any means necessary. One example was marketing a “solution” to customers which would take years to build properly. But instead of running to R&D, doing some manual work behind the scenes to act as if the solution worked. The customer still gets the “service”, so no harm no foul.
First POC’s: Our plan was to find any e-commerce website to start testing our assumptions on live traffic. Through friends, we landed our first POC: two small local e-commerce retailers: Styleriver and Rockglam. We explained our solution and offered them to try a few months (one for free, the other for a few hundred dollars a month). We developed a quick-and-dirty version and launched to gather initial data. This phase took approx 2-3 months.
The results of the POC’s were mixed. On the one hand customers were
happy content with the product and wanted to continue. The data we collected showed us that indeed the Instagram-styled content did bring positive shopping metrics. But, looking back, this was our first production-level A/B test and the way we conducted it was definitely not perfect. Today, I would have conducted several more tests before personally believing the benefits.
First Real Client: Our next course of action was to find unaffiliated customers who could pay 4-figures a month. The plan was only once the deal was signed to develop the full product for them. This was possible due to both my partner and I both being experienced fullstack developers. This technique only works if you can actually deliver your promise within a reasonable time. Our rule of thumb was to oversell features we know we can develop within several weeks. Soon after we closed our first client (November 2016), we incorporated Bllush Visuals Ltd as a team of three co-founders: Peleg Aran, Nitzan Gal and Tomer Dean.
The full story of our first paying clients will be shared in the next section.Read next: Product