Design the most impactful and feasible version of that idea you care so much about –
before you spend your time and money on the wrong things.

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Level 1: Get your idea out of your head

What will you get out of Level 1?

  • Get your idea out of your head with our Idea Napkin
  • Learn what separates a good idea from everyone else’s ideas
  • Get efficient and practical training on the fundamentals of designing the best version of your idea based on our own experiences and the years we’ve spent coaching thousands of entrepreneurs and corporate innovators from Seattle to Moscow to Mexico to Waterloo


Seven deep-dive lessons containing videos, road-tested tools, and a bunch of practical examples.

What will you get out of it?

  • Clear and succinct articulations of your idea(s) – one or more Idea Napkins for your own venture
  • A relentless focus on the fundamentals you’ll need to make your ideas grow
  • A best version ready to take into the next levels of this course and out into the world right away


So many people we work with bounce ideas around in their heads without ever taking the time to get them down onto paper, or even onto the back of the proverbial napkin. Their ideas just sort of hang there.

Worse than that, most who do move forward inadvertently skip the simple up-front steps you’ll learn in this first level of the Idea Maker Course for making your ideas stronger and saving yourself from wasting time and money on the wrong things.

Don’t spend a cent on that website or even consider writing that business plan if you haven’t answered the questions on the back of this napkin.

Level 1 is about getting the best version of your idea out of your mind and onto the back of a napkin. It accelerates the evolution of that idea, improves its odds of success, and helps you find the right path forward.

  • We’re going to introduce you to the Idea Napkin, a tool that comes before any good business model or business plan
  • You’ll make be able to answer the key questions that define a successful idea
  • You’ll learn the fundamentals of topics such as team, customer, value proposition, offering, distinctive competency, and substitutes and alternatives – all in context and through the lens of the thing you’re trying to make happen
  • You’ll consider a bunch of examples drawn from everyday situations and products that’ll bring the key concepts to life
  • We’ll be explicit about what makes a good Idea Napkin to help ensure you take the best possible next steps

Take Level 1 now to get your idea out of your head, to get all of its the fundamentals in place, and to position yourself for designing a better version of that technology, project, product, business, or movement you care so much about.

What else does Level 1 get you ready for?

  • Value proposition design
  • Solid idea models, lean canvases, and business models based on great ideas
  • Better business plans for better businesses


prices in USD

Level 2: Figure out who your customers really are

What will you get out of Level 2? 

  • Figure out who your customers really are – and who they aren’t
  • Learn who else matters if your idea’s going to be a success (it’s never only the ‘customer’)
  • Learn the three key tests of your value proposition
  • Avoid common traps and pitfalls from entrepreneurs who’ve learned the hard way not to sputter out before they start


Seven deep-dive lessons containing videos, tools, examples, and a bunch more great content that follows closely from Level 1.

What will you get out of it?

  • A clear understanding of who your customers really are on one or more Value Proposition Wheels for your idea(s)
  • Succinct, practical statements of what those customers and other stakeholders value in language focused less on what you’re excited to be building and more on how they’re going to benefit from it
  • Feedback on your idea gained by applying the three key tests of the value proposition
  • Plans and directions for being smart with your time and resources in subsequent steps


Once people think they have an idea, we watch them sort themselves into two groups without even knowing they’re doing it. So much so that we’ve even given them names: 1) The Thinkers; and 2) The Runners.

Neither’s going to make it in large part because neither knows who their customers really are.

Most of the Thinkers never end up getting their ideas off the ground because they end up just thinking and talking about them all the time. And we only ever hear from half of the Runners again (because the rest of them give up in exhaustion) – and usually well after it’s too late to help them.

In Level 2 we’ll start turning you into what we call a Big Idea Maker, someone who definitely thinks, talks, and runs – but in all the right directions for the right reasons. Someone who knows their customers better than those customers know themselves, and who can design and deliver razor-sharp value for everyone in the landscape.

Level 2 gets right to the heart of who your customers are (and who they aren’t) … so you can avoid the most common traps and be both relentless and efficient when bringing your idea to life.

  • We’re going to introduce you to the Value Proposition Wheel, a truly indispensable tool for getting your value proposition down and figuring out who your customers really are
  • You’re going to learn how to recognize and avoid the so-called ‘Everyone is our customer!’ trap – and how to get yourself out of it even when you don’t think you’re in it
  • You’ll see what we call the ‘three key tests of any value proposition’ – 1) Are you a candy, vitamin, or painkiller?; 2) Is anyone saying ‘shut up and take my money!’?; and 3) Are you going to be enough like a garbage person in NYC?
  • We’re going to consider some insightful examples and we’ll share all kinds of details about how we use the Value Proposition Wheel and the three tests in our own businesses to help guide you along the way
  • You’re going to put it all to work for yourself in order to design the highest value versions of the ideas you’re working on

People who master Level 2 are able to take a smart look around their landscape. To others, they always seem to end up creating value for the right people in the right ways. They’re appropriately relentless about their efforts but also super efficient with their time and resources – not spending an hour or a penny in ways that don’t boost their progress. They know their customers inside and out – often better even than those customers know themselves. And they’ve got the right mindset for getting out in front of those customers and other key stakeholders.

Join them now!

What else does Level 2 get you ready for?

  • Value proposition testing
  • Pre-persona work and persona development
  • Empathy work and customer discovery
  • Pitching with clarity

Level 2 is available

when you unlock Level 1


Level 3: Pitch it right to get the right feedback

What will you get out of Level 3? 

  • The ability to communicate the value you’re creating in ways that people will really get people to connect
  • Our ‘Pitching Your Passion as a Story’ framework so you can turn your pitch into a compelling feedback generating machine
  • Insights, practice, and more insights – from the perspective of coaches, leading venture capitalists, and corporate innovators


Seven lessons including one mini-workshop – all containing videos, tools, examples, and a bunch more great content that follows closely from Levels 1 and 2.

“I attended a hackathon this weekend with some friends. The whole thing leads up to presentations on the final day marked by our peers, and then a set of judges. I brought my Straight Up tools knowing that I had the holy grail of pitch frameworks inside of it. I led two pitches (<5 minutes for the initial, and 5-10 minutes for the final) and my team actually ended up placing 2nd overall and winning $2,000! I credit a large amount of that win to the pitch framework you taught us. It flows so well and is an awesome format which allows you to hit on all the important points.”


After a few iterations working with us and the framework in this level of the Idea Maker Course, people usually begin to see just how much they’ve been missing the mark when it comes to sharing their ideas with others.

In Level 1 you got your idea out of your head and onto the back of a napkin. So you’d be ready take it out into the world. And in Level 2 you figured out who your customers really are. And what value you’re going to offer to them. And who else in the landscape really matters.

Now it’s time to level up on how you’re going to communicate to those customers and other key stakeholders, both to persuade and especially for feedback. So that you can become the defacto global expert at both your customer and your idea.

You’ll use our well-known pitch framework to help you fashion your pitch into a compelling story. You’ll get a bunch of detailed coaching on what separates a good pitch from all the rest. You’ll see how to avoid becoming a Dragon’s Den (or Lion’s Den, Den D, Leijonan Kita, マネーの虎, Tu Oportunidad, or Shark’s Tank) fatality before you even get started.

And you’ll learn the power of putting the right pitch in front of the right people at the right time for the right feedback.

What will you get out of it?

  • A pitch for your idea in the form of a compelling story
  • Insight into how to tell that story effectively to various audiences and stand out among the rest
  • A road-tested heads-up on stuff that matters as much (and sometimes more!) than what’s actually in your pitch
  • Guidance on getting out into your value network with your story as vehicle for pressure-testing your idea and validating your customers

What else does Level 3 get you ready for?

  • Pitching effectively with a framework for formats ranging from the casual pitch, to the elevator pitch, to the pitch for feedback, to the business or finance pitch
  • Refinement of succinct and focused target personas
  • Deeper more efficient customer discovery work

Level 3 is available

when you unlock Level 2


Level 4: Break it and better it

What will you get out of Level 4? 

  • Our simple but remarkably effective Break It and Better It process for shifting the focus from loving your idea to becoming the de facto worldwide expert at your own customers
  • Insight into how the best idea makers are able to tap the Break It mindset
  • An introduction to our Customer Iceberg Model to get beyond the ‘what people say and do’ tip of the customer iceberg


Five lessons containing videos, tools, examples, and content that follows from and build on what you did in Levels 1 to 3.

Imagine that your life depended on you making a success of your idea within 3 months. Really really depended on it. Would you put out a survey? Or commission some marketing research? Or build a pretty pitch deck? Or do up a business model canvas? Or go for beers to run it by your friends? Or read an inspiring business book? Or watch a TED talk? Nope. If your life depended on really making your idea into a success, the next thing you’d do is get out there, talk to the real humans that matter, and try to ‘break it and better it’ as fast as you can…


This level is about you becoming at expert at your customer. Getting to know them better than they know themselves – the stuff of Steve Jobs myths and legend for sure, but just as much the secret sauce of that super innovative colleague or quietly successful repeat entrepreneur down the hall, across the incubator, or starting you down at that recent pitch challenge.

It’s about getting out of the lab or out from behind your desk to test the hypotheses you have been building about your concept. And putting your assumptions to the test, including who your customers are really going to be and a bunch of assumptions you likely don’t even know you’re making.

And, while it’s partly about putting your pitch to the test – for feedback, you’re going to find that it’s also about taking your pitch and your solution right out of the equation sometimes. So you can listen. And learn. So you’ll be able to understand and then work backward from the right customer’s real experience.

What will you get out of it?

  • Critically important, focused feedback from your customers and others in your value network about who are / are not your customers
  • An understanding of what it means to get below the ‘what people say and do’ tip of the customer iceberg

What else is Level 4 getting you ready for?

  • ‘Getting out of the building’ and ‘hypothesis testing’ as encouraged by lean startup and customer development
  • Formal customer interviewing and empathy work, such as empathy mapping
  • Customer use cases, scenarios, and journey mapping
  • More formally assessing and validating your idea

Level 4 is available

when you unlock Level 3


Level 5: Make your quick strategic pivots now – not later

What will you get out of Level 5? 

  • Some frankness and an understanding of why your idea isn’t as good as you likely think it is
  • Insight into how to go about changing your own odds of success (vs. playing the odds like everyone else)
  • Evidence for why you should step back and seek your own strategic pivots now – not later – no matter how much you want to run with the current version of your idea


Four impactful lessons containing videos, deep dive examples from real new ventures, and content that follows from and build on what you did in Levels 1 to 4.

The gods (and our spouses) only know how many times we thought we were ready to take an idea mainstream. We used to be SO SURE we had it right before going on to learn the hard way that we didn’t. SO MANY TIMES! Now the strategic pivot is part of our deliberate process. Nothing goes out the door without going through this step. Everything that does is so much better for it. And we save so much time and money as a result.


Again and again and again, this is the stage of the process that either separates the really big value idea makers from all the rest – or doesn’t.

So many among us are able to come up with an idea. And so many will march forward with those ideas, spending hard earned time and money on them. Yet, so few understand what it means to design the highest impact version of that idea – the key to unlocking the least resistance, highest impact path forward for yourself. And even fewer will develop the skills to do it for themselves on a consistent basis – almost like magic to those who haven’t been through this training.

Like so many of our entrepreneurial and corporate clients and mentees, we urge you not to take another step, or spend another dollar, or borrow another favor from anyone in your network until you’ve optimized your own odds of success in this way.

What will you get out of Level 5?

  • A more impactful and more feasible version of your idea
  • A mini-portfolio of different versions of that idea that you can test as you go
  • A series of best bets for your next steps

What else is Level 5 getting you ready for?

  • The art of ‘pivoting’ your idea
  • Strategy for your early-stage idea
  • Making sure you’re putting your time and money into the right version of your idea

Level 5 is available

when you unlock Level 4


Level 6: Validate and assess your idea

What will you get out of Level 6? 

  • How to assess the potential impact and feasibility of your idea using our practical tools
  • The ins and outs of how to build a portfolio of high potential versions of your idea and which to focus on to drive forward its best possible version
  • You’ll be challenged to become the defacto global expert on your own idea


Four super practical lessons containing tools and videos that take you on a deep dive on how to assess and validate your idea. This level builds directly from what you did in Level 5 on Quick Strategic Pivoting.

Can you get past every so-called expert’s opinion and actually assess your own ideas in a reliable way? You bet you can. Can you track the progress of your idea like an athlete tracks their progress? Yes again. This level shows you how to make that happen for yourself and your team.


This is a fundamental capstone level of the Idea Maker Course that ties together everything you’ve been learning and doing to this point.

We teach you to assess and validate your idea, and accelerate your own personal practice in this area. And we give you the tools and a kick on the pants to become the true master / global expert of your idea – we want you to know more than anyone you run into, while also knowing exactly where you stand.

People we’ve worked with tell us going through the stuff in this level is like gaining years of experience in mere hours. They speak of the leaps it helps them make ahead of their peers. And they thank us for keeping them real – so they can trust themselves without fooling themselves with regard to the feedback they’re getting and the overall potential of the idea they’ve been working so hard at.

What will you get out of this capstone level?

  • Super practical guidance on using our Idea Slide Rules for assessing the impact and feasibility of your idea
  • Insights into how the Critique Pad works to help you land on a stronger assessment and more valid idea
  • Guidance on how to turn your idea into its strongest version

What else is this level getting you ready for?

  • Business feasibility studies
  • Critiques in a design thinking context
  • Becoming known as the master or expert of your own idea
  • Confidence in your idea and your readiness to launch

Level 6 is available

when you unlock Level 5



Add-on: 1-3% of that ‘Industry’ is Not
the Size of Your Opportunity!

What’s in this add-on? 

  • Our Market Estimation Worksheet
  • Some straight up coaching on fundamentals such as market vs. industry, Total Market (TM) vs. Potential Market (PM) vs. Reachable Market (RM), and top-down vs. bottom-up forecasting
  • How to translate that to your advantage while making sure you don’t look silly to those who do this stuff for a living


Two focused lessons containing videos, the worksheet itself, and examples – in direct complement to what you’ve been doing in the other levels so far.

How big is the opportunity you’re designing for yourself? Most people go about answering that in the wrong ways. Most don’t really know. And lots of them make themselves look pretty silly in the process, just because they don’t know a few basic concepts.


In this short add-on to the Idea Maker Course, we tackle a few of the fundamentals for estimating and speaking about the size of your opportunity.

We help you become a little more sophisticated in doing that for the purposes of designing your idea – in a manner that’s not too simple and not too complicated – so you know what you might be dealing with under different circumstances. We keep you realistic, while keeping it straightforward. We keep you from saying things that give you away to someone with more experience.

And we give you practical examples and a worksheet to accelerate your work.

What will you get out of this add-on?

  • Our Market Estimation Worksheet
  • Coaching on fundamentals such as market vs. industry, Total Market (TM) vs. Potential Market (PM) vs. Reachable Market (RM), and top-down vs. bottom-up forecasting
  • The relationship of these intuitive fundamentals to often-used terms such as Total Available Market (TAM), Serviceable Available Market (SAM), and Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM)

What else is this add-on getting you ready for?

  • Realistic market estimation, e.g. for the business case or business planning process that goes with the idea you’re designing
  • Not looking silly in front of people who knows this stuff
  • A future financial or proforma model to help make your concept a reality

This add-on is available

when you unlock Level 4


Here's why you should run your ideas through this experience!

The odds of success are stacked against us, but you can change those odds for yourself.
You can deliberately design better versions of your idea for better businesses down the road.
We see so many people spend their time and money on the wrong business or website.
Alex Bruton's TEDx Talk on Innovation Literacy | Why We Need to Innovate How We Learn to Innovate
This stuff is absolutely learnable. Watch the TEDx talk on Innovation Literacy.

Here's what people are saying about it!

I used to think that the whole concept of ‘innovation’ or thinking creatively was for the artists, engineers and of course, the designers out there … winning ideas seemed to ‘just happen’ to everyone else. Likewise, it seemed I was often trying to take my ideas straight from ‘napkin to business plan’; I felt frustrated with the process and was rarely happy with the results.

With these approaches, I learned to stop seeing my ideas as fixed entities out of my control, but instead as ripe ‘opportunities’ with the potential to grow into those fantastic, winning ventures by my deliberately designing them to be. I now see all along I was missing valuable opportunities to prototype and workshop my ideas into winning ones. I wish I could have experienced this years ago! Don’t expect to sit back and simply be told what to do … an integral part of the learning experience is to roll up your sleeves and dive right in, creating and exploring throughout.

Thank you … I feel the learning has only just begun!

Becky RockNurse Clinician, Patient Blood Management Program, Alberta Health Services, Canada

These tools and approaches have had incredible impact on our organization. As an executive responsible for innovation at a technology company I have been to many seminars and events trying to improve our ability to innovate.

These have been the most impactful we have used. Our team is now having deeper more constructive conversations about innovation. We’re creating innovative and powerful ideas beyond what we historical have produced.

We were using them within hours and they now have become an integral part of our organization.

I highly recommend this approach to anyone trying to create innovation inside their organization.

Kevin CroweExecutive Vice President Strategy, Long View Systems, Canada

The tools from the Straight Up Business Institute are powerful, practical, and fun. I’ve used them working with companies in California and with students from Florida to Finland. Straight Up continues to produce some of the most transformative and visually compelling, yet simple, tools for empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs. This is where design thinking meets entrepreneurship education!

Dr. Eric LiguoriVice President of Research, U.S. Association For Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) Florida, USA

The Innographer and The Straight Up Business Institute have provided the practical tools that my university students and entrepreneurial and corporate clients easily use to move their innovative ideas forward. I’ve seen individuals and groups make meaningful progress in a scary and ambiguous process in literally minutes – what you’ll find here are intuitive, powerful tools that provide a parachute for jumping off the entrepreneurship ledge.

Dr. Doan WinkelAssistant Professor of Entrepreneurship, Illinois State University, USA

These tools have proven to be easy to teach and easy to learn. Not only that, they work as a system and not just as independent pieces. From idea generation, to business model design, all the way through pitching your project, there is a tool that can be used at each step. All of those tools have a BIG common denominator: they are visual! That is extremely important when trying to communicate in a simple and easy, yet comprehensive way. With these tools each iteration or pivot has an instant feedback, which saves a lot of trouble and disappointments. Even if you are still in the desert, you know which way you have to walk.

Jonathan Colin Pichardo(Former) Director Business Incubator and Accelerator, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education Toluca, Mexico

I used your “Really Big Idea Sketch Pad” recently. I asked my students for their feedback. Immediately, they said it was well-structured, simple, visual, and helped them think through their early-stage business ideas effectively. I echo their sentiments completely. Thanks Alex for making your materials available for instructors around the world to help their students create and launch the next big ideas!

Dr. Phil KimAssociate Professor of Entrepreneurship Babson College Massachusetts, USA

Bring up your game

This is a pair of our Idea Slide Rules. One for assessing the potential impact of your idea. And one for its potential feasibility. Both for helping you get past gut feels and high fives toward a simple yet effective way of validating your work.

This is exactly the same pair of Idea Slide Rules but made for your iOS device.

This is our full Idea Design Kit. It contains dry erase versions of the Idea Napkin, Idea Model, and idea validation / assessment sheet. It contains a pair of our Idea Slide Rules. And it includes visuals depicting the key idea design processes. All in a beautiful carry-all folder.

Our posters are really just for fun. Inspired by things we’ve found ourselves saying or thinking a LOT, they also often serve as a reminder though. They look great on our office walls too!