My first Idea Extraction call

So last Wednesday I had my first practice Idea Extraction (IE) call with Esther de Boer. In this post I'm relating how it went, and (most importantly) I'm going over the feedback I received from Esther.

In case you're not familiar with the concept of IE, it's part of the process at The Foundation to identify a pain, so that you can potentially solve it for the person that will then become your customer. Ideas that you have extracted will then have to be validated with other potential customers, so that you know you have a topic that multiple people will want to pay for your service (whatever it is, it doesn't need to be a SaaS).

I have ingested quite some content around IE over the past weeks: podcast episodes, class videos, webinar recordings, you name it. I had a couple of documents printed out, namely the master diagram explaining the process, and a transcription of the main discussion points that another student had posted on the app's page about IE which I had translated to Dutch, so as not to have to live-translate during the call. I feel I was as prepared as one can be for their first IE call, and obviously aware that there is still a lot for me to learn. I couldn't help but feel lightly stressed (but excited at the same time) for the couple of days prior to the call. You see, calling people on the phone has never been my strong suit, let alone to extract pains to ultimately get people to pay you!

The call itself

The call was scheduled with Esther at 09:20 for about 40 minutes. We went a little under 10 minutes over. My new neighbors were having their house renovated, so I was a bit anxious about the impact on the call quality, but as it happened Esther's neighbors were also busy and it turned out we only had a minute or two where her neighbors affected our call. So nothing bad, really.

We started with a very quick chat on how I was going to approach the call, namely in what role I was going to "interview" her. I had originally planned to address her as a photograph, but we decided it would be better to look at her SaaS owner side. Good think I had scanned her Shootzilla website, but maybe paradoxically it had me make the mistake of not asking about how the business works (see feedback point below).

We then jumped right into the IE call itself: I started with the intro and the what/why/how of the call. I then started to ask questions to find micro-pains. But as the call progressed, I wasn't able to get one out of Esther ;) I somewhat put myself in a corner: Esther had explained to me that she gets her Virtual Assistant to work on repetitive tasks (I made the mistake of summarizing her VA worked on tasks she doesn't enjoy doing - I guess I was too tight and should have listened better), that she still had to manually handle setting up webinars as this was too sensitive yet to give to her VA, and I didn't find a way to reach other aspects of her business where pains could lie (more on that in the feedback section). Therefore, we didn't really get to the Agitate Pain and Brainstorm Solution phases of the call.

About 30 minutes into the call, I started to close it down, in order to keep at least 10 minutes of our scheduled time to receive feedback from Esther. And that was so helpful! Let me get over the main points:


  • I need to perfect my introduction, and write it down. I need to focus more on what benefit there is for them to have this call. E.g. save time, bring in revenue. Also indicate that I'm interested in how their business works.
  • I must have used the phrase "this must be interesting to you", which Esther told me I shouldn't use, as I have no idea of what should interest her or not. Good point, I need to banish this formulation from my toolbox.
  • The main reason I didn't get to extract a pain, is that I didn't ask enough open questions. Esther told me I was phrasing my questions in a "A or B?" manner, which didn't let her the option of really telling me about her pains. I hadn't realized this, so this bit of feedback surprised me. But I immediately recognized that this has to be the most important bit I got out of the call: I need to get my counterpart more freedom, and let them explain their business and associated pains to me.
  • Related to this, as I was saying that I wasn't able to extract a pain from our discussion, Esther told me that I hadn't given her the opportunity. By asking these closed question, and not letting her tell me about how her SaaS works, I didn't have a good picture of her world, and thus couldn't direct the call to where pains could be. Major feedback item, point taken!
  • She gave me a tip that she uses to break the ice: ask them to tell about their business, how they got started. As entrepreneurs are generally proud of what they've achieved, this is a good way of getting useful information about them/their business while getting them in a good mood/feeling. You can also direct the question as to how many people they employ, how their logistics work, how they work with vendors. This will give you a global impression over their business.
  • Ask what the success criteria are for their business: what brings the money home? Also, what are their biggest costs?
  • Esther told me that I showed good curiosity, but that I should let her finish speaking. A couple of times I jumped to other questions, while she wanted to actually continue telling me stuff. I suppose I do this because I'm somewhat afraid about silences in the call, which brings us to the next point:
  • Drop more silences in the call. Summarize what they said ("If I understand you correctly..."), then stop speaking. When they're "done", ask "What else can you tell me about this?", or "And how does that go then?"
  • And finally, Esther told me I should never stop the call: always get them to go further with "Can you tell me more about that?", "and how about this?", etc. I'm not sure what to do about this piece of feedback yet: on the one hand, I agree with the fact that the more they can tell about their business and pain the better, but on the other hand I also want to be respectful of their time: we had agreed on 40 minutes, and I wanted to make sure to get Esther's feedback, so that prompted me to start ending the call (in a manner that I can't say I'm proud of, as it felt clumsy). Yep, I need to think some more about this. I guess in a real IE call, as I won't be asking for their feedback I can get to the very last second, and then based on my feeling of how the call goes figure out if I can push it some more. If my interlocutor is clearly having a good time (also meaning having pain relating his issues), I won't be stopping him...

So what's next?

It was really an eye-opener for me to have this first call with Esther, to which I'm really grateful for her time and feedback. After hanging up the phone (we dropped Skype to our cellphones about half an hour in, as the quality was getting bad), I did a little "victory dance" and screamed a couple of times "whohooo", as I really felt proud of myself having overcome the fear that I had accumulated around making this call. I went and shared the major points with my wife who was working at her desk upstairs.

On Friday I've reached out to the other 6 Foundation members in The Netherlands to ask them if they would be open to do a practice IE call with me. In less than 5 hours I had 4 get back to me (all with positive answer, what a great community!) and I even got pointed to a 7th "stealth" Dutch member (which I hadn't identified as he hasn't got his localization defined in the Foundation app).

Next call: Monday at 11am. I still need to digest all this feedback, but I'm determined to make that second call much better than the first, and repeat the improvements with the 3rd call (Monday as well, at 9pm).

OK, enough time spent relating this event. I feel great having written this down, as I want to keep a record of this important event. I just know this is the beginning of something great...