The Advice of a Demo Day’s Judge for Teen Entrepreneurs

The Advice of a Demo Day’s Judge for Teen Entrepreneurs
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I've judged for three years now for Leangap. I never ever judge the participants based on whether they're using, whatever the hot new technology of the day is.

Back when crypto was hot, I didn't judge them on whether it was a crypto project. Today I'm not going to judge them on whether there's an AI project.

I will say that AI is easier to use than ever and it can create really compelling value propositions. It is worth considering, especially as we talk about learning about some of this new stuff.

However, there are two issues that I see consistently in some of the projects that I see throughout the years.

I think they're just part of the learning experience. This isn't necessarily a criticism, but I would say that the first thing I judge on is the progress that you make.

I'm realistic, I get that it's just four weeks, but you would be shocked at what you can get done in that time. Think about where you can really show progress in a reasonable amount of time and what good progress means for your use case.

There's a lot of excitement about problems that people have in their daily life. We always see a lot of things that are education focused and sometimes we'll see students who venture outside of their universe, and I love when that happens, but a lot of time they haven't really talked to the people who would be using the product and service.

They don't ask for advice to better understand some of the other things that are out there. They're not aware of other efforts that have been tried, and that means they haven't thought about whether it will grow and what the business will look like.

  • Know about what's happening in the world.
  • Talk to your users.
  • If you're going to address a problem that you aren't directly facing, then talk to the people who are really dealing with it.
  • If you're going to try an old problem in a new way, identify how you can truly do better.

That goes back to what we said earlier about getting out in the real world, you'll learn about some more problems.

What differentiates a successful business from a failed one?

Let’s take the example of making a platform for homework.

The internet software has been around for 20 years, why hasn't the solution come to exist? Try to learn about the reason that that's the case and find out what the other options are, so you can make something that's actually truly better. By doing so, you can avoid going down a path that failed without knowing why they failed.

There are actually a lot of businesses where the aversion to it has been tried and failed for 5 or 10 years and then the one that you have now hits! Now, it either hits because something changed in the world, the time changed or because there was an insight that they all got wrong in the past. 

So, you tried one thing that was different and that one thing that was different actually was the difference between success and failure.

Instagram is a great example.

There were tons of photo sharing apps and a lot of them fizzled out. But what Instagram got right was the filters, because the screens and the cameras weren't so great yet.

And the things that you needed to make a high-quality image involved high resolution, which made the images big and slowed the download. So, the filters made you look good, even with a camera that was garbage, and without making the file really big, so it could load quickly. And that allowed Instagram to grow really fast.

Then, they introduced following and social features, which a bunch of the other photo apps shockingly did not have. And that created a network effect that allowed Instagram to not only grow really fast but made the product sticky. And that's why they were able to sell to Facebook for a billion dollars!

So that's an example of a business where there were two little things they changed, that completely changed the trajectory of that product versus a thousand other ones that didn't work.

Are you going to create the next Instagram during Leangap? Maybe, most likely not, but you'd actually be surprised by how many startups actually started with a summer thing that someone just started working on.

Snapchat is another example. It started as a class project and now it's like a $20 billion publicly traded company.

It could be you.

You just have to really dedicate yourself to it and you have to really think about the real problems and why they're being solved or not being solved today.

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