Asking good questions

8 11 2007

One of the coolest things about developing a new product is the endless supply of ideas that are available from people who will eventually use it. In my case these people are climbing wall managers and employees at University recreation centers, and I’ve found that most of them are willing (and even excited) to share their ideas and suggestions…as long as I ask the right questions.

Asking good questions of would-be users is one of the keys to understanding the true potential of the project, and the true size of the market. Here are a few basic questions that I’ve come up with that I think I’ll use with pretty much any potential product:

  • What is the most painful part of ________?
  • How do you envision technology improving ________?
  • Where do you see ________ in 5 years with technology?
  • If you were thinking about purchasing software for ________, who would you talk to about it?

The first three questions help me see the current gaps in the application and effectiveness of technology. They also help me (and those I’m talking with) develop a bigger picture of what could be possible with a particular product. The last question helps me understand who else I should be talking to about this particular issue. From my experience this last question will enable me to more clearly define the market for my product and identify those constituents who could help market my product to others.

I recently asked the above questions (along with a few others) to my current set of beta testers — the word in the blank was, of course, climbing wall management. I got some great responses, and I plan to follow up on each of them to let my testers know that their ideas are being heard. The hope is that this will create an environment for the free flow of ideas, so that soon I won’t need to ask my testers how the product can be improved…they’ll tell me anyway.

Hoping to go to Boulder

25 02 2007

I’ve known about the Climbing Wall Association (CWA) Summit in Boulder, Colorado for awhile now but hadn’t seriously considered going. A few weeks ago I received notice that Stratus Insurance Services was offering scholarships to current and past members of the CWA (oh, and one or two for people who have never been members at all).

Since I fall in the last category (membership is more than I’d care to spend) I initially didn’t give the conference much thought. But this weekend I began completing the application, and then snuck a peek at flights to Boulder for the weekend of April 15th. I was pleasantly surprised to see how cheap airfare and hotel accommodations were for the weekend, so now I’m starting to become cautiously optimistic and excited. Of course, the deal’s off if I don’t get the scholarship. But we’ll see what happens.

Below is a snippet from the application, and I think it partially sums up why I’d like to go…

As the sport of climbing continues to grow and new climbing facilities are established, it is important that climbing wall operators are properly equipped to manage their indoor climbing wall. Many operators use a paper system to track climber information and certification. This system is only as reliable as the operator or employee on duty and is less effective for larger facilities. The initial release of my climbing software helps ensure climber safety by storing a climber’s certification level, gear rental preferences, and waiver information. When a climber checks in to climb, the system verifies that the climber is certified and up to date on their training and climbing waiver. In many facilities this information kept on paper in a filing cabinet and is not easily accessible.

The Climbing Wall Summit offers a unique opportunity to meet others who are involved in climbing wall management, people who are well acquainted with the industry and passionate about serving the climbing community. Networking with these professionals will enable me to better understand the best practices, emerging trends, pain points, and pressing needs in climbing wall management. The summit will broaden my perspective of the potential benefits of climbing wall management software and enable me to customize the software to the diverse needs of the recreation management community.

Interest and endorsement

19 04 2006

Before attending NIRSA I hadn't thought much about the potential market constituents for climbing wall software. I knew that it could be useful for climbing wall managers, but beyond that I had no idea. I kind of happened upon my first two solid potential market constituents while wandering around the NIRSA expo. There were three climbing wall manufacturers there pimpin their goods.

The first person I talked to was Eric Meade, president and CEO of Entre Prises USA. After I gave Eric a rundown of my idea and showed him some screenshots, he was excited about the possibilities. He said that he'd be very interested in offering software as part of the turn-key solution that Entre Prise sells, and then proceeded to list billions and billions of potential features that this software could offer (which for now I'll keep to myself, thank you very much).

I also spoke with Dustin Bosscher of Nicros Inc., who got me in touch with their president of operations. Evidently there have been quite a few people who have tried to commercialize some sort of climbing software but have come up short. I'm looking forward to talking with the contacts that I've made to find out why.

My hypothesis is that these inventors who started out writing software didn't get enough endorsement for their product before plunging headlong into development. I hope to get the support of at least one climbing wall manufacturer, and more than a few climbing wall facilities. The facilities on my list at present are UK and EKU (for proximity's sake), and the Boulder Rock Club and Boise State (because they're freakin huge).

Incidentally, Boise State is also the location for AORE 2006. If I can find a way to get there on the cheap, it may be worth my while to go (market constituents by the dozens). More on that later though.