Sprint Week: What to Expect When Creating a Company in 4 Days

by Amna Sohail - Business Analyst

Takeaways from a first-time sprinter

Sprint Week — it’s a hallmark of High Alpha and one of the driving forces that helps us to innovate and stay in the business of creating businesses. It’s a week where the entire company shuts down and the whole team prepares for late nights at the office to make our goal of launching the next-gen enterprise cloud software company a reality.

Three weeks into my new role on the Business Design and Corporate Innovation team at High Alpha, I had the opportunity to participate in Sprint Week #8.

Altogether, 60+ people joined in teams to shape 5 different concepts over the course of 4 days. The result: 5 Minimally Viable Businesses (MVBs) with diligence on customer validation, go-to-market/pricing, and a product prototype. It’s amazing to see how much we can accomplish in such a short timeframe.

The entire week was filled with lots of learnings and opportunities to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones to grow. Here are my top takeaways:

1. Embrace Ambiguity

The path from a framed problem to a viable solution isn’t pre-defined. We have to get comfortable making decisions with limited data-sets, continue to find the “nuggets of truth,” and rapidly iterate along the way.

On day one, we are posed with several big questions to be answered by the end of the week such as: Who is the ideal customer? How would we go-to-market and scale this product? What would the “dream team” look like if this were to become an actual company?

We cannot begin tackling these questions until we first start with scoping out the problem at hand and diving deeper into the customer’s current pain points. As we learn more about the customer, there are critical assumptions that must continue to get tested and refined over the span of three days.

We don’t walk in with a lot of answers and we can’t just begin with solutions. Despite the big challenge ahead of us, we are fired up by the bigger opportunity that lies ahead. Coupled with a healthy dose of competition amongst the teams, we’re in for a fierce and fun time.

2. Lean In

Much like the growing pains of a startup, Sprint Week takes us through a mini, accelerated version of The Startup Curve:

Source: Paul Graham

Reaching the “trough of sorrow” is inevitable. But when that happens, it’s imperative to lean into discomfort, face uncertainty head on, trust your team, and keep rapidly prototyping to reach an outcome hyper-focused on the customer’s “job to be done.”

One of the guiding lights at the end of the Sprint Week tunnel was the “Jobs to be Done” framework by Harvard Business School professor and Disruptive Innovation expert, Clayton Christensen.

Simple yet powerful, the “Jobs to be Done” framework challenges us to think about what job a customer would “hire” a product or service to do. If we can determine the customer’s job to be done and help them make progress towards something they are already trying to accomplish, we know we are on the right path. We know this to be true because as we gain more clarity on how to solve for the customer’s discrete pain, we can better refine our focus on the product vision and move more quickly through the trough of sorrow.

Source: High Alpha

3. Leverage your Team & Network

During Sprint Week, everyone is a “designer” collectively helping to shape the various aspects of the MVB. Coupled with subject-matter-experts, business advisors, and their respective networks, the team brings a wealth of knowledge and insights that help us architect a viable solution.

It was incredible to see how my teammates and I were able to come together to take on various roles and essentially design all critical aspects of the business. Everyone is fully immersed and using all of their skills to design everything from the product to the go-to-market strategy and pricing plans.

As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. This effect becomes amplified with more people in the room. Each person has the ability to tap into their diverse network of individuals that can shed light on the customer’s job to be done. As we design with the customer in mind, each insight validates our next step towards reaching a solution. Having different people in the room internally and externally allows us to combine our different perspectives and dream bigger than if we were just by ourselves.

4. Dream Big & Move Fast

Innovation starts with cultivating the right mindset. When we stretch ourselves beyond the burdens of reality, the possibilities we uncover are endless. It’s important to reinforce this notion that everyone can be creative and to expect more from not just our teammates, but also ourselves.

It’s about being curious, having courage in our convictions, keeping our minds open to new approaches, and having the humility to admit when we’re wrong and quickly move forward.

Taking a page from Reid Hoffman’s (Co-Founder of LinkedIn) and Chris Yeh’s (Co-Founder and General Partner at Wasabi Ventures) book “Blitzscaling,” it’s also important to prioritize speed over efficiency. As a team, we have to constantly keep taking action to learn at high speed and to keep evolving quickly, as we test our hypotheses and gain new insights.

A huge thank you to the entire team for imparting a lot of wisdom in a week. I am thankful that High Alpha has a “forcing function” to innovate, which challenges us to get out of our routines, aim higher, and keep learning together. Our team is already gearing up for Sprint Week #9 and and we’re going to hit the ground running in 2019!