Stephen Douglas




United States


Public Administration


Jan 2016 - Sep 2017

By Stephen Douglas

Six Secrets to Success for a Brilliant Oxford Entrepreneurship Project Pitch (Part II)

1. ID brilliant, agreeable, like-minded team members

This one is easy. I heard one classmate’s brief presentation of another classmate’s plans to use machine learning in her project about predicting global water scarcity. I wanted immediately to be part of their team. My role as Chief Business Officer is to develop a market for our Software as a Service (SaaS) product. As I wrote before working together is fun, and endlessly fascinating.

2. Pass the “So What?” test

This is Business Plan 101 stuff. But, when the service you are creating doesn’t yet exist and a market for it is only just being imagined, this is a really useful exercise. Once you’ve identified potential end-users’ so-called pain points, and you’ve worked out a solution, it’s a good idea to ask the “so what?” question (shout out to classmate Alison S for reminding me of this!!!). The “So What?” test’s a version of the famous “Mother” test for a business idea. By this we mean, of course your mother’s going to think your project is a great idea – that said, my mum probably would’ve suggested I sell Hanukkah cards or something a bit simpler than addressing global fresh water scarcity!!!! Will someone pay for your solution? You have actually to convince people who are not your mother to purchase your product. You have to envision the value you can add to strangers’ lives through delivering your service.

3. Be operationally brilliant from the get-go

Many businesses innovate in silent ways. Their products aren’t really different from those of their competitors. But their operations, for example, are so brilliant or their service is so fantastic, that they can at least match their competitors’ market share or find a profitable market niche, without having brilliantly innovative products. Our Software as a Service is very innovative. Yet, we as an entrepreneurship project team also need to be operationally brilliant, even at this stage, as we investigate ways to bring our SaaS to market.

4. Investigate, adjust, then repeat until you find plausible paying end-users

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of fantastic conversations with brilliant people working on the frontiers of what is possible in insurance; in environmental risk modelling; in universities; in computer science; in business; in international organisations; in government; in strategy consulting… Almost every day my project partners and I have a conversation with someone brilliant. Usually we do this via video conference, as the three of us are constantly on-the-move, scattering ourselves around different parts of the world for our respective day jobs. This past week in Oxford was no different. I spoke about our project to practically everyone I met. Most innovation comes from “weak ties”. The idea is that those you know well, will know what you know. In networking, it’s best to find people with whom you have weak ties, according to research. Inspire them through creating shared value to connect you to their weak ties and you’re away… For example, an overheard breakfast conversation at Oxford Saïd on Saturday inspired a classmate to come over: “My father worked at NASA on this problem. You two must speak.” Excellent. Another fantastic conversation awaits!

5. Present Again and Again and Again

The more you present your idea the better your spiel will become. My informal waffle about what we are doing, I have repeated one-thousand-times. First, I will try my elevator pitch, which is a sentence. If I detect enthusiasm, I can expand my pitch in modules, until I reach the boundary of my interlocutor’s interest. Often, their curiosity is insatiable. I love these conversations. Nothing whets the presenting skills better than presenting before a panel of professionally austere and sceptical Oxford University examiners, as we did this week. At the beginning of our presentation they asked us what we were looking for of them? “Angel/Pre-seed capital – £500-700k.” And, that was the role they played. They were not an easy audience, nor would we expect them to be. Our next formal presentation will benefit from the constructive feedback they gave us about our pitch.

6. Business Plan

Over the next months we’ll be assembling our 8,000-word business plan to hand in for our final entrepreneurship project module grade. All the while my market research and these fantastic conversations will continue. In fact, in case we “go real” as one of my project partners put it, I suspect these investigatory conversations will be going on for quite some time yet.

Entrepreneurship Project Oxford EMBA

My entrepreneurship project partner teaching me machine learning

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