Why Failure was the Catalyst for Creation: the CIL Origin Story

City Innovation Labs was born as an answer to all the mistakes I’d made as an entrepreneur, it was my mission to help others avoid making the same ones. CIL is a digital product innovation firm set on helping innovation teams take their vision to life while ensuring together we build the right product. We focus on building rapid prototypes to first validate your target market and then once we have something worth building, we’ll help you develop it. In this way, we have helped others avoid the problem of spending millions of dollars building software that no one uses. As a good guide and partner, we have created a roadmap to digital product success by systematizing the many years of pain-staking lessons learned to create our D4 Innovation Model

  • Discover opportunities through Design Thinking
  • Draft a Rapid Prototype through Lean Startup techniques
  • Deliver software through Agile Development
  • Disrupt their Industry through Innovation Consulting

Like every good story, there is some history behind how we ended up where we are today. Years ago I was the CTO of a Silicon Valley start-up. We were excited to solve the “fitness problem”: helping people stay committed to their fitness goals. Over 66% of gym memberships go unused. We thought we had the solution: we would do live streaming across the world. We believed people didn’t work out because it wasn’t convenient. Any trainer could sign-up and make money doing a live-stream class. What Peloton did for bikes, we wanted to do for bodyweight exercises. I left my comfortable consulting job to solve this problem with my best friend and business partner.

I am an engineer at heart, with a background in programming dating back to the Atari days, so I figured development would be key in solving this new fitness challenge before us.  My mind immediately went to the ones and zeroes and started coding a solution. That was a mistake. We defined the problem, we made every assumption and then we started building. We built this magnificent piece of software without customer discovery or validating our assumptions. We didn’t ask if we were building the right thing, but we built everything in the right way. We (excuse the engineering jargon!) engaged a well-known UX firm, built a robust infrastructure on Amazon (with fully scalable video encoding/streaming), setup WebRTC technologies to workout with your friends, created a fully-automated continuous delivery pipeline, etc.  For those that read all of that and have a headache, none of it actually mattered when we were trying to find Product-Market Fit.

Josh Barker Conducting an Innovation Workshop

After three months of building (which I thought was fast!) we had a really nice piece of software with all the bells and whistles. No one used it. We thought we had traction with over 50 trainers, 10,000 sign-ups and my partner’s vast experience in the fitness space, but when the actual class came only TEN people came to watch and work out. My head was filled with questions because we did everything “right”! We spent over $100K building the wrong thing in the right way! As a start-up, that is a very expensive mistake. Where could we go from here?  Providentially, we were introduced to people that have been there and done that and helped us re-focus on solving our user’s core problems. We learned from Silicon Valley’s best about the customer discovery process, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Google Design Sprints and how the valley is constantly outpacing everyone in the marketplace.

We’ve made the costly mistakes at CIL so you don’t have to. Not only do we build software the right way, but we focus first on building the RIGHT software. Through rapid prototyping and our D4 model, we validate your idea before bringing it to market. Reach out to us with any questions or ideas – we’d love to help you think through and verify your concept.

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