Derek Jouppi, 25, and his two cofounders at Suncayr, Andrew Martinko, 25, and Chad Sweeting, 25, are on a mission to help people safely enjoy their time outside in the sun.
Starting as nanotechnology engineering students, Jouppi and his cofounders weren’t exactly bred for entrepreneurship. They had no business background, and the majority of their work experience was solely research-based.
“Despite our lack of experience, you only get one time to go out on your own and see what sort of impact you can leave on the world. So, we took the risk and jumped in headfirst into starting our social venture,” Jouppi shares.
The initial inspiration for their social venture came from a fourth year design project in school. Wanting to do something meaningful for the project, Jouppi and his team were drawn to the problem of skin cancer. “Cancer has affected all of our families in some form, and while skin cancer wasn’t particularly prevalent, it is one of the few forms of cancer that is preventable,”Jouppi explains. “We thought, why not at least try to stop the one we can control and potentially solve?”
The main issue concerning sun protection is that sunscreen needs to be reapplied to continue to work, and, since it is absorbs into the skin, there is no way of telling when its protection wears off.
Their idea: what if a color changing indicator could tell you when your sunscreen had worn off? Out of this simple question came Suncayr, a smart UV indicating sticker that changes color with UV light, letting you know when your sunscreen is no longer protecting you.
What started off as a school project quickly transformed into a promising business. In less than four years, Suncayr has raised over $700,000, won 47 grants and pitch competitions, and expanded to three offices in Canada and Australia.
Despite this success, however, the evolution of Suncayr hasn’t been easy. After quitting their jobs and investing everything they had out of school, Jouppi and his cofounders spent the next two years developing a pen to draw the ink on your skin. It wasn’t until the product was near completion and they took it to the market, did the team discover they wasted their time. Though the product received overwhelmingly positive feedback, there were concerns about its safety. After receiving market feedback from concerned parents, Suncayr scrapped the pen and went back to the drawing board. As a result, they settled on developing their current product, the UV SPOT sticker.
Looking back, Jouppi sees this pivot as one of his greatest learning points. “We would have been better off introducing parents to our idea by showing them a Crayola and letting them handle it,” Jouppi reflects. “When it’s a concept, people can say it sounds great, but their opinion changes once they get to physically see or use the product.”
Jouppi’s comments touch on a deeper issue that plagues many young entrepreneurs. The purpose of market feedback studies is to validate an idea and prove to investors there is a need for a solution. In the excitement to prove the potential of our ideas, it is common to ask for general feedback or leading questions that will provide us with the answers we want to hear.
To avoid biased or generalized responses, consider the following criteria when crafting market feedback questions:
1) Get specific answers
“Sounds cool” does not translate to “Yes I will seek out your product in a store and buy it.”
Ask deeper questions that require your prospects to identify their level of interest, why they would use your solution, how they would use it, and what specific attributes appeal to their needs.
2) Validate the problem, not your solution
Questions that incorporate your idea, such as “would you like a solution that does X?”, can lead you to the conclusions you want, but they will not give you objective data on the priority and severity of the problem you are trying to solve. Instead, open-ended question that asks the prospect to identify the problems they have will reveal if your solution is on the right track. From there, you can either work on building your solutions, or explore the potential changes needed to better resonate with your target market.
3) Identify customer constraints and priority concerns
As Suncayr encountered with child safety concerns, there are many external factors that could affect a customer’s willingness to buy into your proposed solution. By identifying the problem areas that customers are most concerned about - whether it’s privacy and security requirements for software, budget limitations, or health issues - you can preemptively act to alleviate possible objections and design your solution to speak to these needs.
Finally, once you find your market and understand their needs, Jouppi encourages aspiring young entrepreneurs to “Think about where you start.” Suncayr started in Ontario, Canada, where Jouppi and his team lived, but soon after expanded to an office in Australia. In Canada, Suncayr’s SPOT stickers are nice to have for parents. In Australia, however, where the incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, their products are a vital aid to parents wanting to protect their children from the sun. If you are looking to start a business, it is important to acknowledge that your market isn’t always going to be in your backyard. It is important to understand the needs and characteristics of your target market, but also where you need to be to reach them.
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