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Venture Up and the 'f---' moment

Marking the midpoint of her first startup experience, 19 year old Venture Up participant, Maeve de Vere, shares her  reflections over two days of the fully immersive accelerator programme.

If you think of life being sectioned into cycles, cycles of learning and growing, cycles of beginnings and endings, of succeeding and failing, you’ll recognise the part of the cycle some like to call “Crunch Time” I like to think of it as “Ouch” or maybe more accurately The ‘Fuck’ Moment. The part where you suddenly realise you’re in over your head, where you can’t touch the bottom and you’re wondering why you ever decided to swim out so far anyway. The end’s too far to see but so is the start, the plans you’ve made feel like remains and panic is more than a looming threat, it's running through your blood.

This was our Wednesday night. We had sent out a survey trying to get to the bottom of our assumption that people, specifically people aged 17-24, had a serious problem surrounding their ability to control their self discipline. Considering how everyone we know talks about their struggle with their self control, when trying to get things done or when trying to not bow to the pressure of the moment, we knew it was a widespread issue and relatively easier to solve than the declining bee population (as it happens the bees in New Zealand are actually increasing, but that’s another story...)

In terms of a solution we already had a few ideas, perhaps an app that tests your self control (called “Do Not Open”, genius...) or some sort of checklist/goal-setting app that helps users earn real life rewards through collaborations with banks, or shops, or cafes or gyms or SOMETHING. Alas, they were not to be, the feedback we received was that while people do struggle with their self control and wish they had better self discipline they aren't currently doing anything to try to remedy that and were generally far from admitting that they would ever need external help. Something our swashbuckling mentor Anne Walsh tartly classified as “false humility” or “bragging by humility.”

And so it was born, our ‘Fuck’ moment. We were gifted with the agitating problem that we couldn’t find a problem, let alone a solution. Being too far into the agile accelerator course that Venture Up is we didn’t have time to start from scratch so we retreated into the results of our surveys and hunted for another hint of another problem we could chase.

It became apparent that trying to fix people’s “attitudes” was a ridiculous call from the start. On Monday the incredible Melanie Langlotz, founder of GEO AR games, came in and gave us talk on Mapping Your Market Potential. One of the many important things she said was “remember your customer always has the option to not change at all.” In that moment, we realised that the problem we were tackling, was hardly a problem enough for people to want to pay to fix it, let alone continue to use it." It's an oxymoron really, making an app to help people with self discipline, guaranteed to work if they could just manage the self discipline to keep using it.

So Thursday was a day of banding together and seeing what glittering gems of problems we could find in the wreckages of our survey results, a wild array of answers regarding what people found most difficult when dealing with self discipline. We effectively had to do what Eric Ries describes as a “Zoom In Pivot”, where what was previously just a feature becomes the whole focus. I was delighted to learn that we were not the first entrepreneurs to do this, in fact this pivot practically puts us on par with YouTube! Which, little did I know was initially a dating website where people could upload videos and Flickr! Which was an originally an online game that zoom pivoted into becoming the world’s best photo uploading site. Ries describes a pivot as A change in strategy without a change of vision. Excellent. (Learn more from the wise Eric Ries here).

And so the cycle continues on and as the raging gales of the “Fuck” moment fade away the next stage of the cycle appears through the mist; the sunrise, the calm, The Pivot. We have shifted focus now from solving the whole spectrum of people’s problems with self discipline, and are instead zoning in on how people deal with the tension between instant gratification and long term-reward. I’d eat my hat before guaranteeing this is exactly where our venture will finish, let alone be in another week, but for the moment I know it will take us where we need to be for the next step, be it another pivot, another “fuck” or a billion dollar deal with Google.

For more information about Creative HQ’s Venture Up programme and to follow the rest of the journey, visit www.ventureup.co.nz.