Shooting for the Moon 🚀
In a matter of 24 days, my team managed to build out and pitch a moonshot project.
Every year, The Knowledge Society (TKS) hosts its annual Moonshot Hackathon. We’re given one month to find a huge problem, and come up with a radical solution that uses an emerging technology in order to solve it. The main rule: it has to be possible within the next 5–10 years.
For me, this experience was an exponential learning curve with constant knowledge drops from amazing people who came to speak with us at TKS.
What is a Moonshot?
The term “moonshot” was derived from the Apollo 11 spaceflight project, which landed the first human on the moon in 1969 despite the belief of the project being impossible.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land in the stars.”
In a technology context, the term moonshot is a super ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project that aims to make a radical change in the world.
TKS’s moonshot sprint was inspired by the culture at Google’s Lab, X — The Moonshot Factory. A place that is full of innovation, and promotes failure (we’ll explain why later :)!
Inspired by X, the criteria of a moonshot project or proposal is that it:
- Addresses a huge problem
- Proposes a radical solution
- Uses breakthrough technology
TL;DR on our Moonshot
As a result of a large combination of factors, infertility in couples has been increasing. In the past 40 years, sperm count has declined by 60%, and if this trend continues by 2045 the median sperm count will be 0. Current infertility solutions are highly ineffective as a result of their reliance on the individuals to produce healthy sperm and eggs.
Our proposed solution at Janam Labs bypasses the reliability of healthy Germ cells from the parents by creating babies from the skin cells!
The pipeline: Skin Fibroblasts => Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells => Primordial Germ Cells => Egg and Sperm => Fertilization & Implantation
After pitching to amazing judges who provided us with legit feedback, my team received the best overall as well as the people’s choice awards.
Throughout this process, my team learned so much, and here’s a TL;DR on our journey :)
Our Journey approaching a Moonshot
Always start with a premortem. Take the time literally to sit there with your team and align all your values. I thought it was unnecessary at first too, but no matter how long you’ve known the people on your team, this will help you all stay on track, aligned, and make sure everyone’s on the same vibe :)
Things to include in your premortem:
- What has gone wrong in your past project?
- How will you mitigate those things that went wrong?
- What is your team culture? (kind of like guidelines for the team)
Best practices that worked for the Janam Labs team:
- Have a Project Manager (PM)!! No matter how close your team is, have one person responsible for keeping everyone on track, organizing work, and setting deadlines (it’ll make sure you stay on track)
- Have daily syncs and always set an intention behind the sync — our team met everyday at 8pm, even if it was a short 15 min call, we would give a progress update + discuss challenges + assign any tasks
- Have the PM send daily updates in your group chat (we did ours after a sync and it included: summary of the meeting, goals for tomorrow, and assigned tasks)
- Use Notion to organize documents + deadlines
A braindump is the best way to get started. Individually our team took some time and put down every idea of a problem/ direction that we could end up going (literally no idea is too stupid to put here).
When we came together we put our list of over 100+ problems together and went through each of them crossing the ones off that we didn’t vibe with.
We narrowed it down to our top problems and then dove deeper into each one trying to figure out which one we thought had the most potential (keeping the moonshot criteria in mind: a big problem, that could have a radical solution, using breakthrough tech).
You might end up doing this entire process a couple of times, which is completely okay, that’s what we ended up doing :) At the end of the day, you have to fall in love with the problem <3 (not the solution…)!
Approaching the Problem
Root cause analyses will be your best friend, and having a MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) mindset will get you going in the right direction.
Essentially what you’re trying to do is break down the “buckets” of causes of the problem, and then you break down each bucket until you can’t break it down any further. The MECE part of it helps make sure that your buckets don’t overlap giving you direction.
The goal is to become an expert in the problem, if someone were to ask you why this is a problem, you should be able to explain using your depth of knowledge the causes of the problem.
On top of that, make sure you’re talking to people already in the industry, or people with the problem you are trying to tackle! You’ll learn things that you may have missed or even never found in your research. This is EXTREMELY important and EXTREMELY valuable, so start reaching out to people as early as possible. Our team started the moment that we had our problem, and it did pay off!!
Finding a Solution
Once you have your breakdown, use those root causes to identify what portion of the problem you can tackle to have the most impact. For example, 2 of the bucket causes of infertility are failure to ovulate and STIs. Failure to ovulate accounts for 40% of women infertility cases where STIs account for a much smaller amount (these are bucket causes as an example, but look at the ends of the chart, the root causes when making this decision). So naturally, it would make more sense for our team to find a way to work around the issue of failure to ovulate rather than STIs.
Once you have a good understanding of the problems, understand the status quo!!! This is so important to start doing at an early stage to get a scope of the industry and to start understanding the possible barriers that you might face, and could have to overcome.
Simultaneously, while you understand what’s out there also take time to start thinking of radical solutions. It’s a moonshot!! So, even though you’re taking the time to understand the current situation the goal is to do something completely different so you make a 10X not 10% improvement.
Testing and Validating a Solution
This is one of THE if not, THE most important step. Talk to more people!! Explain your solution, get feedback, ask these industry professionals to poke holes. This is so important to find gaps that you yourself may have missed in your proposed solution.
Getting as much feedback from as many different people as possible is essential to make sure you have the best solution. Proposing a Moonshot idea, you’ll probably face some backlash and non-believers (I know we did!) but, this is good for you to understand their perspective as well and keep that in consideration.
Along with industry professionals poking holes, make sure you’re poking holes yourself as well! At some point, you may find so many holes that you’ll realize that you’re solution is actually not viable (this is why you <3 the problem… not the solution), and you may even need to go back to solution ideation. This is why it’s so important to start talking to people early!!! so that you have time to get all this testing done, and have time to re-ideate if necessary.
Know your audience, and know your intention behind the pitch. The worst that could be done is overloading your audience with unnecessary information, and the way to avoid this is by understanding why you’re pitching what you are.
For example, if pitching to investors some of the most important things is that they understand your vision, what your solution is, why it’s important, and why it’s even necessary (better than the status quo) in the first place vs. if you were pitching to a more technical audience you would dive deeper into the tech side of things, and the how of the tech.
Your pitch should make your audience believe in you as much as they believe in your solution. So show them your personality through it, be natural, don’t be extremely formal.
Storytelling is the key to a great pitch. It helps convince people of your vision, and connect with your pitch. Take time to learn how to tell a good story, it’ll change every presentation that you do.
On top of that, constantly iterate. Get feedback from anyone who is willing to listen to you. Ask your audiences what they got from your presentation, take these pieces of feedback that you get, and use them to 10X your presentation, just like your moonshot would 10X the status quo :)
When you have your pitch done, practice is so many times so that you know it like you know the back of your hand.
Check out Janam Lab’s pitch here!
- Fail Fast — Test early, and fail fast so that you don’t waste the resources and time that you have
- Don’t be afraid to kill your ideas — when you test your hypotheses you may realize it’s not feasible, don’t be blinded by your attachment to your solution, take a step back, and don’t be afraid to take go back in the process
- Encourage poking holes — encourage team feedback, and go as hard as you can with this feedback (remember it’s not personal, it’s for the greater good of your team)
- Monkey > Pedestal — this is an IMPORTANT one, tackle the hard things first. Don’t start with the things you know will work because then if you tackle the hard thing later and you realize that it doesn’t realize you’ve wasted all that time on the easy thing.
At the end of the day, we did recognize where our team is right now it was not feasible for us, ourselves to pursue this idea. But, our team has set a calendar invite 5 years into the future for us to catch up and come back to this (of course including messages to our future selves as well :)