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From an idea to an innovative startup – episode 8

“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” ―Dean Kamen

In this episode, Amaury and Mitchie discuss how startup founders can take on the role of the innovator in their startup. They cover the 3 categories of innovation, and the process to integrate them into early-stage project planning and brainstorming.

Pre-order a copy of Amaury’s new book, Startup Without a CTO, and get an early digital version two months before the official launch:

Show notes

  • What the CTO’s innovator role is all about
  • What to do first when taking over for a CTO in innovator role
  • What the 3 categories of innovation are and some resources you can use to make your start attractive to investors, accelerators
  • What process you can follow when injecting new technologies
  • How you can create value and new business opportunities out of the data that you already have
  • How you can further gather data
  • What are some game-changing technologies you can use
  • How you can integrate them into your project
  • Why growth hacking and Web marketing are key (it’s not always the techy things)
  • What are the basics of a marketing and sales funnel
  • What are some social media tools you can use to target people
  • Why starting small is the way to achieve your vision



Mitchie Ruiz: Welcome to My CTO Friend the Podcast, where founders come to learn how to manage a tech startup. This is Mitchie Ruiz and I'm with Amaury Khelifi. Hi, Amaury.

Amaury Khelifi: Hi, Mitchie. And welcome, startupers, to today's podcast. In this episode, we are talking about how to make your project even more innovated. You are going to learn how to act as an innovator, making the most out of technologies, web marketing techniques and even creating new business opportunities.

Mitchie: Now, remember that for this first series of the podcast, we are working our way down Amaury's book, so we're going through the tips and real startup experiences he's gathered throughout the years. If you're a founder, without technical background, listen up because you're in the right place. Let's go ahead and get started, Amaury. Today, we are covering something called innovation and this is a big thing in the startup environment, right?

Amaury: Yeah. Absolutely. We touch for a bit in this topic during the episode three if I remember when we were talking about what startup wants and what they need and one of the rule of a CTO is to be an innovator and injecting answers, technical opportunities, as well as businesses opportunities, etc. And, this is everything that we're going to cover in today's podcast.

Mitchie: Wonderful. So, there is something that we need to address. When we're talking about traditional professions, we have a clear set of expectations. If you have an architect, if you're an engineer, you have this clear set of expectations, but for an innovator, it's just so big. You have so many things to do. You change industry, you change product each time that you're getting into a new startup project as a CTO, right? So, when we're taking over for a CTO in an innovator role, what do you begin with? What do you do first?

Amaury: Well, I really realize that I became a CTO after working with more than 100 startups. Before that, I was building processes. I even created a courses like that last year on how to brainstorm ideas, etc. and I didn't realize that I was creating this innovation process. In the process, I often lead my clients to and people in startups I coach is to brainstorm, of course, on the business model of their own, I would say, box, but next is to think out of the box.

And, in order to think out of the box, is to force yourself to integrate things that have maybe not really any common interests with your business and that's where we can inject maybe technologies in your business model. We can inject web marketing techniques because these days, if you want to build a business, you do need to know how to get clients and etc., etc.

Mitchie: Right. Now, we start with the brainstorming techniques. We go through the process that we need to go through to identify other opportunities, other projects that seemingly don't have much to do with ours. Let's talk about some of the resources that these people can use, the founders that they want to look at, other projects, for example. You mentioned the resource, TechCrunch, right?

Amaury: Yeah. In order to become, yourself, an innovator, you just need to analyze three things on other startups. The three things are injecting technologies, how to, again, force you yourself to use [inaudible], the growth hacking techniques and the web marketing. In other words, how startups that works and that got skyrocket do to get new clients on daily or on a weekly basis and what are the innovation behind their business model.

What's new in the way they provide values. And, in order to get to know that three categories of innovation, of course, looking at the news, the tech news like TechCrunch is, I think, one of the biggest tech news in the world. Product Hunt is great as well because you see new startups on daily basis and that's exactly the way that you can makes your project, I would say, in a more sexy in some way, by adding more, yeah, innovation technologies and you will be more attractive.

You're going to be more attractive for incubators, accelerators, subsidies, etc., investors as well because they will see not only the potential of the business that you are creating today, but maybe the potential of your business in one, two or five years and hopefully for them, being able to envision you as maybe a monopoly some day.

Mitchie: Right. So, let's jump right in, I think. Let's talk about injecting your technologies. What process would you advise people to follow when they're doing this?

Amaury: Well, the first things I like to start is to analyze what information you have in your database. What are the information of your clients? What are their data? What they are doing? I mean, are you tracking where they are going with a GPS [inaudible]? Are you getting some personal information like their daily tasks, etc. etc. It can be biased. You need to pay attention to respect the client's privacy, but these type of information, without really using them in a nominative way, you can build an algorithm that can maybe down the road help your artificial intelligence, if I can put it this, to create prediction. And, what prediction the data? That's basically the question. What prediction the data you had in your database can enable you to have?

Mitchie: Right. So, your AI would be able to extrapolate the data that you already have and turn it into predictions and possible needs, possible wants in the future?

Amaury: Absolutely. It's all about creating value out of the data that you have because, okay, you have your first business model. That's a good start, but maybe if we talk about, as example, personal development, you might be able to anticipate, depending on today's needs, what will be the needs of this person in one years, in five years. And, if you already have other people with the same needs back a few years ago, maybe you're going to connect them and you will have a relation between a student and a coach as example.

Mitchie: Exactly. Wonderful. So, you're even creating new business opportunities just talking about the technologies.

Amaury: That's the beauty of the thing. It's just to create value and value create new business opportunities.

Mitchie: Of course. Wonderful. Now, that's with AI and we're mentioning data, but there's not just that when talking about AI, right?

Amaury: Yeah, yeah. What provides the most data these days are IoT. All these connected devices, the internet of things, can provide us lot of data. It can be the weather. It can be information about a container. It can be everything, an images taken through a webcam, etc., even on the top of mountain, with the sun and electricity, you can manage everything and all this information …

So, first off, in the process, just force yourself to imagine your project with an IoT device, maybe with a webcam, with a detector. I don't know, a light detector. It can be everything and under every [inaudible] with screen, without a screen. It can be like with Alexa etc. and when you have that information, you can come back to using AI and using [inaudible] cognition if you take pictures or if you have videos or you can use NLP, the natural language processing, to listen what people say and maybe insert their question or providing services like Amazon do and services just out loud or like Siri and etc.

That's the thing is that data is the starting point of any other services that you can build over different communication channel between software on device and a human.

Mitchie: Wonderful. So, recognize the data that you already have and the data that you are going to recollect throughout the years, try to get more data through IoT devices if that's possible and use AI to analyze said data, right?

Amaury: Yeah. And, you don't need IoT devices to gather data, just smartphones provides a tremendous of data and if you connect social media, Facebook, etc., you can already have lot of data.

Mitchie: Wonderful. Okay. Now, let's talk about some other technologies. There are different options, right? We have blockchain. We have augmented reality. We have virtual reality. These same principles apply to them as well?

Amaury: Yes, these are all game changing. That's some game changer, I mean. Blockchain will allow any startups to fix an information and to keep it during the years and without being able to get. It's a proof. It's a proof and maybe tomorrow, banks will not even be required anymore because blockchain and the computer and the internet can become the official bank in some way.

Virtual reality is the same thing. That's game changer because, again, put a headset and imagine yourself everywhere. We saw the success of Pokemon Go as example. Even if it's not very useful, that's the sign that there are a lot of new innovation to come in this area. Again, this is a processes of saying, “Force yourself with your current project. Force yourself to see how your business model will be able to use these type of technologies and how you can create value for you and consequently to your clients as well.”

Mitchie: Remember, every project is different, so the way you would use virtual reality would be completely different from your neighbor's. So, go ahead and get into that mental space to identify how you can, let's say, integrate this into your project. Now, something that we could do as well, you mentioned, is using the value proposition canvas to identify at what point we can add an IoT device or we can add some sort of AI, some sort of technology, right?

Amaury: Yeah. It's all about creating value either for you, for your clients, for your partners, for your [inaudible] for everyone. So, the value proposition canvas is very simple and there is a right side of the template who describe what are the jobs to be done by your clients, what are their pain and the gain they are looking for and you can dissect that and not only seeing the big picture of this task that you want to help them, but dividing this in sub-tasks and, again, sub-tasks until you get the very tiny, small thing.

And, maybe the first step for you will be to help them to achieve this small thing and then growing on other things until you are able to help them complete the entire tasks.

Mitchie: That's right. And, we did touch on the value proposition canvas on a previous episode of the podcast, episode five, Know Your Customer, if you'd like to hear that if you haven't already. And, we are going to talk a little bit more about how to break down your tasks on the next version of the … next section, sorry, of this episode talking about the business model. But, for now, let's just go ahead and touch on growth hacking and web marketing.

Amaury: Well, that's some very trendy words and the growth hacking is how you can use tech tips and tricks to be able to target your customers and to reach them. We often talk about scraping and using social media in a kind of bended way. There are also thousands of web marketing techniques and sometimes it's not that complex and there is something basic that everyone should have in mind.

It is this. If you want to build a business, you need to be known, trusted, and liked. I mean, if people know you, that's the basic of a [inaudible] is to build an awareness so that you … They need to know you first and you develop interest and then considerations and then down the road, they are going to evaluate if yes or no you are the right fit for helping them to reach their goals and it's going to end up, hopefully, to a purchase.

Mitchie: Now, there is a little quote that you gave me. It's a pearl. I loved it. That you said, “I hate wasting my time. So do startup founders and so do their customers.” So, this is pretty much what growth hacking and what marketing is all about, right? You are not wasting your time promoting your product to people that may not get it and you're not wasting the time of the customers that are simply not the right target audience for your product, right?

Amaury: Yeah. The [inaudible], the marketing finale is quite simple is that until these days, we were doing a bit of marketing and a lot of sales. I mean, as soon as people were connecting to our brand, we were getting them on phone and speaking to them, convincing them, talking again, two, three, four, five time etc., etc.

A startup, if we want to build a scalable business, we need to automate that and people have that in mind for sure. They think, “Okay, I'm going to create videos, I'm going to create blogs, etc., etc. and then people will come and buy my stuff.” It's not always that easy. What you need to do is to go through the manual steps. You are not going to be profitable in the beginning and that's fine.

You still go and demand your steps of being able to create sales meetings, be able to talk to people, identify why are they are buying and why others not and then you will create the perfect client. Identify what is the perfect client that just bought your stuff right away and you will just have to pick other client exactly like this person, maybe exactly the same age, maybe exactly the same … or be on same mindset, etc., etc.

And, instead of just trying to sell to your entire city, which would not make sense at all, just try to sell to the entire world, but just pick one person from each city. I was comparing myself the other day to this because I was talking to a member of my family and I say, “Okay, you know there is over the city where I am living in, there is, I think, between one to three person that can become my customer, so why would I just put a big billboard or try to put an ad in my city if there is only one person, over 10,000 people that can buy my stuff.”

No, that doesn't make sense. You just attract people that fits what you want and you target them on the web thanks to social media, thanks to digital marketing, thanks to YouTube. If you communicate in a very, very niche way, people will find you and come to you and then you will have that process that grows and that can help you to just make yourself.

Mitchie: Perfect. And, like you mentioned before with social media, try to use the technologies and the tools that they already provide like hashtags on LinkedIn and Twitter, using the ads on Facebook, Pixel, everything that the tool itself, that the social media itself if going to be able to provide to you as someone that wants to do marketing in the web, right?

Amaury: Yeah, the semantic approach is the best approach for using social media as well as for growth hacking. You are going to target people thanks to one word. Maybe that passed one day this hashtag or one day they did this type of interaction or they just liked a post that was talking about your topic or post from your competitors or a post that just [inaudible].

And, instead of spending hours or days or months trying to make the post yourself, you know what, just pick people on someone else post. You just see who likes this post. You just connect with them and talk to them and that's a very, very easy way just to connect to your people and to target them.

Mitchie: Ride the wave, as they say? If you have other posts, other things that are creating a wave, ride it and make the most out of it.

Amaury: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, all the social media works the same way. Hashtags, keywords, that's the way you can take the most out of it and you can also, once you redirect people to your website or to your content or to your Facebook page, obviously, you are going to use what we call the retargeting. And, retargeting will enable you not only to show maybe [inaudible] ads to this type of person there, but also to build a typology of customers or prospects and enable you to ask Facebook to bring you more clients with the same common interests.

Mitchie: Exactly. Perfect. So, Facebook would be creating an audience for you?

Amaury: Yeah. You are going to start with your own audience and you can ask Facebook to grow your audience by creating ads and attract people that have the [inaudible].

Mitchie: Perfect. So, you would just need to provide the base. Wonderful. Now, let's touch on business model because this is something that a lot of people may glance over and not pay as much attention as they should, but going over the business model and finding a more innovative, a more optimized way of making up your startup, right, could be the make it or break it for innovation, right?

Amaury: Yeah. That's very funny because I am a CTO and I was coding and scripting and managing servers just few years ago and I still do this type of things time to time and now I see that the value that I provide … the way I provide the most impact is on the business side of things. Why? Because I have that roots. I have the foundation of knowing how to build things and I can identify and prioritize few small opportunities and I mean business opportunities because I already know what is the easiest to get done.

And, when you have a startup, basically, we talk about the vision in the previous episode, you have this purpose, why you are here, why you are building this project, why you are building this startup and behind that purpose … Let's assume as example, you want help people to travel more. Instead of helping everyone to travel more, which might be the wrong path to take on, you just start with the small things.

Just pick one city, like, let's assume Marseille, as example and you want to make people travel to Barcelona. That's just very small chunk where you can find your first niche and maybe that's not even small enough, so instead of selling the entire travel from Marseille to Barcelona, maybe you can get specialized in just selling and providing transportation between Marseille and Barcelona.

And, maybe you cannot afford to buy a bus. If you cannot afford to buy a bus, just get someone else company and you're going to sell tickets from them and you're going to get some fees. That's another way to be a business. And, maybe by dissecting the process, you can come back to something else. You sell tickets from Marseille to Barcelona, eventually, people will ask you more information on Barcelona and get to know if it is better to travel to visit this side of the city or the other side.

And, you will be the first guide for your travelers and then this guide will become maybe another things like a mobile application, maybe with feedback of clients, maybe with injecting technologies, you're going to add virtual reality to makes people choose between the left side of Barcelona or the right side and then later you are going to add more cities and people will travel thanks to your application and see any type of cities in the world.

And, at the end, your business will have nothing in common to the first one instead of just the purpose. The purpose was to makes people travel, it can makes people travel through virtual reality and making them visit 10, 20 countries before picking the right one for them instead of just sending them in a destination that might not be a good fit for them.

Mitchie: That's right. That's a really good example. There's so many steps that you could take to get to that final vision, to that final idea that you had, but if you take small steps, you're going to find opportunities along the way and you're going to find little paths. Just like walking around Barcelona, you're going to find different paths that you might want to take and that's a little bit more interesting or that is a little bit more like me and your business could take a whole different path, a whole different way.

You can end up with something completely different, but that's good and that's better for you. Business opportunities in the startup environment are the ones that have holes in them, the ones that need to be explored and starting small and starting with small versions of your business model, those are the ones that are going to give you that opportunity, that growth, that space for growth and to get into those little niches and to get into those little spaces that are not filled up yet.

Amaury: Absolutely. And, that's what can also lead you to [inaudible], for example. You can move from one business model to another or just, maybe the first business model was not enough to be profitable and you might think of another business model thanks to all the opportunities you have in the beginning. So, more you analyze things around you, more you will be able to focus on what is important.

And, I often remind my clients that building a startup is all about switching from seeking opportunities and just focusing, which means also not missing opportunities. So, you focus and when you have some opportunities, you just note them on the Post-it on the side on some [inaudible] notes whatever, and you come back to it later and you keep your focus on one thing.

You achieve this in few month and then you open your [inaudible]. You say, “Okay, what have we done right, wrong? What can we do differently next time etc., etc.?

Mitchie: Wonderful. Amaury, is there anything else you would like to cover in this topic?

Amaury: No, I think we went fast on a very, very deep content. There are so many things that we could share, but, yeah, for today, I think it's enough. So, an innovator rule is all about bringing new clients to your company and you can attract them thanks to technologies by adding more values to the end product or to the service that you're providing and you can use so many technologies.

You can also use web marketing technologies, growth hackings and it's just not always techie things. It might be just a way of using [inaudible] social media in some way or searching in another way that can help you identify what are the right people for you.

And, finally, building smallest business will be your best help in order to achieve your vision because instead of waiting one years to reach your goals, maybe you can start tomorrow selling small tickets. And then, later, having something bigger and bigger and bigger that is going to grow from there.

Mitchie: That's right, just using that first step as the stepping stone, putting it in the ground and building from there. Wonderful. This was a very interesting conversation. Thank you much, Amaury.

Amaury: Thank you, Mitchie. Thank you, Mitchie. So-

Mitchie: Okay, so, let's just go ahead and talk about our resources. If you want to go ahead and look at the links and notes for today's episode, you can do that in where, Amaury?

Amaury: In as example, number of the episode. Already eight episode. Great.

Mitchie: Yes. We were fast. We're doing it. You can also look at other content on We have a lot of tech management content out there, blog posts, video advice, whatever you need. Courses.

Amaury: One video every week. Yeah. One video every week. Courses, etc.

Mitchie: Wonderful. And, what about the book?

Amaury: Yeah, we are working on the book and we already covered the fifth chapter together and if you want to pre-order the book, you can get a printed copy on and if you order it now, you will get additional version two month before the official launch and you just need to get on, sorry,

Mitchie: That's right., that's for the tech manager in a startup.

Amaury: Yes.

Mitchie: But, just visit all of them. They have so many good things. I mean, just go ahead.

Amaury: If we are here today anyways, it's just because we want to help people and that's what we do the best and I think podcast is the new way that has a good fit for it because we save you time. We were talking about saving time-

Mitchie: Exactly.

Amaury: Maybe you are driving, you are running, I don't know. It doesn't matter. You are learning.

Mitchie: Exactly. And, you're doing it while saving time. Perfect.

Amaury: Absolutely. Thank you, Mitchie.

Mitchie: Now, talking about podcasts, very quick, very quick, we do have our next topic for episode nine.

Amaury: Yeah, because we brainstorm.

Mitchie: It's a big one.

Amaury: We brainstormed today. We saw the way to create new opportunities, new business opportunities and maybe out of this process, if you do it right, you might have a world full of possibilities, so the goal will be to prioritize and that's what we're going to tackle next time. The roadmap definition process.

Mitchie: That's right, roadmap definition. Now, you've tackled this in a few courses and you've tackled this in a few videos. It's a big topic, but a very exciting one. But, this is exactly just planning out what you're going to do from now on. So, listeners, startup founders out there, if you're listening, I hope to hear you on the next episode, roadmap definition. And also if you want to leave a comment or something, let's say a suggestion for a topic, you can do so in

Amaury: As well as on iTunes, of course, we would be glad to have your feedback and suggestions.

Mitchie: Exactly. Wonderful. Well, thank you very much for listening today. Thank you, Amaury, for a wonderful conversation-

Amaury: Thank you, Mitchie.

Mitchie: And until next time.

Amaury: Bye-bye.

Mitchie: Bye.