Customer Discovery for SDG Games

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you the Customer Profile I’d developed for the initial target customer persona for SDG Games. Kelly Jo is a (fictional) homeschooling mom with a couple of kids. I developed some hypotheses about the jobs, pains, and gains for this persona. How could I test these hypotheses?

Steve Blank says that the number one goal of customer discovery is “turning the founders’ initial hypotheses about their market and customers into facts.”¹ And the phrase he’s famous for saying in how to do customer discovery is “get out of the building.” Customer discovery is all about spending time with potential customers to deeply understand how they live and work so that your offers truly fit their needs.

For customer discovery to test my hypotheses for SDG Games, I pursued three approaches: an online survey, interviews, and participating in Facebook groups.

For decades, businesses have relied on customer surveys to learn about customer needs and preferences. Surveys can be effective at developing quantitative perspectives on specific clearly defined questions. For example: “36% of CTOs at medium sized enterprises prefer monthly contracts.” Surveys are much less effective for gaining qualitative perspectives, especially on emerging topics. To be effective, a survey also requires a large enough response to provide statistically meaningful results. The response to my survey was not broad enough to draw statistically meaningful results, however, one key takeaway from the results received was that there were additional “pains” that I had failed to reflect in my original hypotheses, specifically the challenge of internal family dynamics. For example, one respondent said “I have multiple children under the age of 5” and then explained how that made it hard to keep their attention for long.

Because of the shortcomings of customer surveys, especially for startups with innovative and unconventional concepts, the Lean startup community has tended to focus more on customer interviews. This is the approach that I most often recommend to startups. So as part of SDG Games’ customer discovery, I spoke with moms who are currently or have previously homeschooled. 

Before I explain what I learned, let me describe a customer discovery interview. These interviews are NOT about the product or concept. When you lead a customer discovery interview, very few statements should come out of your mouth, instead, you should almost exclusively ask questions. You are here to listen, not to be heard.

Here’s an example of how my side of an SDG Games customer discovery interview might go:

  • Thanks for your time. I really appreciate it. This is all about learning from you, so we aren’t going to talk about my product at all. I’m certainly not trying to sell you anything. If you’re interested in hearing what we’re working on, if we have time, I can certainly give you a quick overview at the end, but let’s really focus on you and your needs totally independent of what I’m working on.
  • As a homeschooling mom, how would you describe your job? What is your job description?
  • Wow, that’s a lot. Which of those different functions is most important?
  • Which takes up most of your time?
  • That’s really interesting. When things are going really well in all those different aspects of your job, what does it look like? What are the near term benefits of what you’re doing?
  • And when you think longer term, what are the long term blessings of being a homeschooling mom?
  • Okay, but I’m guessing things don’t always go great. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in doing your job? What makes it hard?
  • Are there specific roadblocks that sometimes makes it feel like it’s impossible for you to be successful in all those things you described as your job?
  • Let’s talk about one of those. What have you tried to overcome the time management challenges?
  • Did that work? 
  • Were there aspects of that approach that you thought were really good? What aspects really didn’t work?
  • Are there approaches that you’ve thought about but haven’t tried?
  • Why didn’t you try it?
  • Thank you again for your time and your insights. This has been super helpful to me! Do you have any questions for me?

As you can guess, this doesn’t follow a fixed script, it flows with the conversation, and every conversation is different. At each step in the process, I might probe more to make sure I understand what they are saying, or I might follow a rabbit-trail that they introduce to see if it produces any really insightful perspectives. 

Through the customer interviews, I think my hypotheses on the jobs and gains were pretty much confirmed. On the pains, however, I realized that I had missed some that were at least as big as any I’d previously identified. Specifically, time and budget are big issues for most homeschooling moms. Teaching is a lot of work, as is managing a home. Unlike a job or even a traditional classroom, the teacher’s authority is balanced with motherly love, and the students have demands on Mrs. Teacher that go beyond anything a classroom teacher will typically need to address. 

Money is also a big deal in most homeschooling families. Parents need to bear the costs of curriculum, books, teaching tools, and materials usually without any kind of government or donor support. Additionally, most homeschooling families are single income households. That typically means that there’s not a lot of money left over for special “treats” like board games.

So, my two main takeaways from the survey and interviews are:

  • Do everything possible to reduce the game cost.
  • Make sure the game doesn’t take too long to play, or at least that there’s a “fast” option.

Surprising to me, the most valuable perspectives in customer discovery actually came from Facebook. There’s a very active Christian Homeschooling Families group on Facebook with over 45,000 members. Many in this community actively share their lives with each other, looking for input and help on things well beyond the classroom. “NHSR” (not homeschool related) is a very common tag in this group. That gave me a very good perspective into what is really shaping the jobs/gains/pains for these potential customers. 

As I’ve studied the discipline of customer discovery, I’ve often come across the concept of “going home” with customers or “a day in the life” of customers. This has always seemed like an optimal situation, but one that is very hard to pull off, and probably impossible to do at any scale. However, this Facebook group gave me an opportunity to glance into the lives of hundreds or thousands of active community participants.

One of my big takeaways from this exercise is that the Christian homeschooling families target market is not as homogenous as I’d represented in the customer profile. There are significant differences based on the ages of kids being homeschooled, the number of kids in the home, and the importance of integrating faith into the educational process. There are also different philosophical approaches to homeschooling with phrases like “unschooling” and “Charlotte Mason method” having specific implications for how families approach homeschooling. 

I also discovered a relatively new approach to homeschooling called “gameschooling”. There’s a very active “Gameschooling” group in Facebook with over 31,000 members. This isn’t specifically for Christian families and there’s clearly a mix of Christian and secular homeschoolers, but the “about” for the group starts with “We believe that homeschooling can be *almost* all fun and games!” which is very encouraging for SDG Games’ mission. 

Although it’s clear from this community that most of the families are using games as a relatively minor part of their overall education, these families are clearly much more likely to consider buying an educational game than the broader homeschooling population. From some specific posts and general comments in both Facebook groups, I would estimate that the typical Christian homeschooling family might buy one game a year, while the typical gameschooling family might buy one game each month.

From this observation, it seems like we should narrow our initial focus a bit further to Christian Gameschooling Families. In my previous article I identified the market of Christian Homeschooling Families at 200,000 to 1 million. Using the Facebook group size numbers (and an estimate that 20% of the members of the Gameschooling group are Christians), I would estimate there are approximately 30,000–150,000 Christian Gameschooling Families in the U.S., which is still a large enough market to initially target.

With all that in mind, above is an updated version of our Customer Profile.

My time on Facebook also was encouraging in terms of the direction of our first game. On January 2 of this year one member of the Christian Homeschooling Families group posted: “Looking for recommendations for family games (not electronic, but board games etc). My children are 11–16 all boys. Thank you!” Over the next few days, there were 313 follow-up comments from community members providing their recommendations. In all there were over 700 recommendations or affirmations of games by name, with the most recommended games being “Settlers of Catan” (62), “Ticket to Ride” (53), “Uno” (33), and “Monopoly” (29). Since our first game has aspects similar to the Ticket to Ride games, it seems to affirm that what we’re developing is likely well aligned with the homeschooling market.

Next we need to answer the critical question of whether or not we have a value proposition that can resonate with our initial target market. Stay tuned!


¹Blank, Steven Gary., and Bob Dorf. The Startup Owners Manual: The Step-by-step Guide for Building a Great Company. Pescadero, CA: K & S Ranch, 2012.


Journeys of Jesus: Jerusalem

Last week we looked at Jesus’ third journey — from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Before we move on from Jerusalem, I want to stop and take a good look at this city.

Jerusalem is mentioned by name 766 times in the World English Bible, with the first occurrence of the name being in Joshua 10 when Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem forms an alliance with four other kings and they attack Gibeon in retaliation for the Gibeonites making peace with Israel. In one of the most amazing displays of God fighting for His people, the battle went long and didn’t end well for Adoni-Zedek and his allies.

But, many scholars believe that Joshua 10 is not the first mention of this great city. They believe that Jerusalem is the same city as Salem and we encounter a theologically important King of Salem in Genesis 14.

Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him, and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth. 20 Blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave him a tenth of all. Genesis 14:18-20

And so, even from Abraham’s day, Salem was a spiritual center in the land. But many centuries would pass before Jerusalem would again become spiritually prominent for Abraham’s descendants.

In Joshua 10 we read that Adoni-Zedek and his army were defeated by Israel’s army, but in Joshua 15 we hear that Jerusalem, on the border between Judah’s and Benjamin’s territory, was not completely conquered.

As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah couldn’t drive them out; but the Jebusites live with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. Joshua 15:63

After Joshua’s death, Judah and Benjamin again fought against the Jebusites in Jerusalem with limited success. (Judges 1:8,21)

So, why was Jerusalem so hard to conquer?

In short, it held a very defensible position.

The city was built on two ridges. The western ridge is what is now called Mount Zion. The eastern ridge is the southern spur of Mount Moriah. The Jebusites had built their fortress on the very southern tip of this ridge. The Tyropoeon Valley separated the two ridges, but more importantly, the Kidron Valley separates Mount Moriah from the Mount of Olives, and the Hinnom Valley runs to the south of both ridges and west of  Mount Zion.

From “The Holy Land in Geography and in History. [With maps and plans.]” (1899) (Public Domain)

These deep valleys create steep slopes up to the ridges, providing natural defenses. Mount Zion is significantly broader and higher than the eastern ridge, but lacked a good water source, so the Jebusite fortress was built on the eastern ridge on top of the Gihon spring.

This spring played a key role in the next major chapter of Jerusalem’s history.

In 1867, explorer Charles Warren discovered a shaft that connected the city to the spring down below. The residents could lower buckets by rope down this shaft and draw water into the city. A popular theory has been that when David sought to capture Jerusalem, Joab led the attack by climbing up this shaft (2 Samuel 5:7-8).

Israel’s first king, Saul, was a Benjamite and he made Gibeah his capital. Gibeah was 3 miles north of Jerusalem. After the death of Saul, David was first chosen as king of Judah and made his capital Hebron, 19 miles south of Jerusalem. After the death of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth, the remaining tribes came to David in Hebron and made him king over all of Israel.

After conquering the city, David strategically made Jerusalem, on the border of Judah and Benjamin, his new capital. He expanded the city and strengthened it’s fortifications. Jerusalem has continued as an important political center for Israel to this day.

However, perhaps more significantly, David and his son Solomon also made Jerusalem the spiritual center of the country.

During the exodus from Egypt, God had directed Moses to create the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat where God would meet with Moses. He also directed Moses in creating a tabernacle (tent) to house the ark. God also established through Moses the ceremonial system through which the Israelites would worship God. The alter at the tabernacle was the center of that worship. The tabernacle and everything associated with it could be easily packed up and moved as Israel continued its journey to the promised land.

Even after arriving in the land, the tabernacle continued to be the spiritual center of the Jews. At first, it was in the Israelite camp at Gilgal, but then moved to Shiloh in Ephraim (about 30 miles north of Jerusalem). Saul moved the tabernacle first to Nob and then to Gibeon, 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 1:3). 

The ark of the covenant, however, was no longer with the tent of meeting. In Eli and Samuel’s day, the Israelites had foolishly taken the ark into battle against the Philistines, who captured the ark and carried it away. God brought judgment on the Philistines, who sent it back to Israel. It stayed for 20 years at Kirjath-jearim before David had it moved, first to Perez Uzzah and then finally, into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:15,17).

David wanted to build a house for the Lord in Jerusalem, a permanent temple to replace the tabernacle, but God would not allow it since David was a man of war. He told David that his son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. In his life, David gathered the materials, and God, in His providence, made clear the place for the temple.

God allowed Satan to tempt David to take a prideful census of the people, leading to God sending a pestilence on the land. As the destroying angel was about to strike Jerusalem, God commanded David to build an altar to the Lord at the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite, where the angel of the Lord stood with his sword drawn. 

So David gave to Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place. 26 David built an altar to Yahweh there, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on Yahweh; and he answered him from the sky by fire on the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then Yahweh commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. 1 Chronicles 21:25-27

Then David said, “This is the house of Yahweh God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” 1 Chronicles 22:1

It must be noted that this was not the first time that a sacrifice had been offered in this place. We must again go back to Abraham’s day. 

He [God] said, “Now take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.” Genesis 22:2

So Abraham took Isaac and they went and Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, but God stayed his hand.

12 He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place “Yahweh Will Provide”. As it is said to this day, “On Yahweh’s mountain, it will be provided.” Genesis 22:12-15

And if we fast forward in time from Abraham to David and all the way to Jesus, we will see again on this same mountain another sacrifice, this time of God’s Son, His only Son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Getting back to Solomon’s time, David’s son did build the temple on Mount Moriah.

Then Solomon began to build Yahweh’s house at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where Yahweh appeared to David his father, which he prepared in the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 2 Chronicles 3:1 (see also 2 Chronicles 5:2,4-5,7)

Solomon’s temple became the center of worship for all of Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel’s kings and people sinned and turned away from God and His wrath burned against them. After nearly 400 years, He sent Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon, who conquered Judah, burned Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.

By God’s grace, Persia conquered Babylon and Cyrus the Great allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. Seventy years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple, these returnees rebuilt the temple. Four hundred years later, under Roman rule, just before the time of Christ, King Herod the Great greatly expanded and renovated the temple.

This is the Jerusalem and temple that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus visited weeks after His birth.

The map above is from the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game board showing the location of Jerusalem.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

Journeys of Jesus: Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Last week we looked at Jesus’ second journey — from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then His glorious birth.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5

Today we will look at his first journey outside the womb.

You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and no sin is in him. 1 John 3:5

1 John 3:5 describes what some theologians call Jesus’ passive obedience and His active obedience. His passive obedience was His willing suffering and death on behalf of His people “to take away our sins.” His active obedience was his perfect keeping throughout His whole life of the law that He was born under so that “no sin is in him.”

Although it’s hard to think of acts done by His earthly parents when he was a helpless babe as Christ’s “active” obedience, by the grace of God, Joseph and Mary did complete the steps required by the Jewish law for Jewish babies, and thus Jesus began His life in perfect obedience to the law.

Leviticus 12
Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her monthly period she shall be unclean. In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall continue in the blood of purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her period; and she shall continue in the blood of purification sixty-six days.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the Tent of Meeting, a year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove, for a sin offering. He shall offer it before Yahweh, and make atonement for her; then she shall be cleansed from the fountain of her blood.

“‘This is the law for her who bears, whether a male or a female. If she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons: the one for a burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.’”

This is the Jewish law concerning the birth of a child. And Joseph and Mary obeyed it with the birth of Jesus.

When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21

We are not told otherwise, so presumably, this circumcision happened in Bethlehem. And then, after 33 days, they traveled to Jerusalem. In the days of King Solomon the Tent of Meeting had been replaced with a permanent Temple in that city. 

When the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),24 and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24

Bethlehem was not far from Jerusalem, just 8 km or 5 miles (less than a 2 hour walk according to Google Maps). Although the elevation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem are similar, they would’ve passed through a couple of dips, with the final climb into the royal city being fairly steep.

From Google Maps

When they arrived, they were greeted by two very interesting characters with prophetic messages that would especially stick with young Mary.

Luke 2:25-35
Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 He came in the Spirit into the temple. When the parents brought in the child, Jesus, that they might do concerning him according to the custom of the law, 28 then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 “Now you are releasing your servant, Master,
    according to your word, in peace;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared before the face of all peoples;
32 a light for revelation to the nations,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 Joseph and his [Jesus’] mother were marveling at the things which were spoken concerning him, 34 and Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. 35 Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:36-38
There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn’t depart from the temple, worshiping with fastings and petitions night and day. 38 Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem.

There is much we could unpack from these messages, but I leave that to more capable men. Suffice it to say that these two rejoiced at seeing their savior and redeemer. May we rejoice as well!

The map above is from the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game board showing the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

The SDG Games Customer Profile

One of the most important early decisions that a startup can make is who they are setting out to serve. A startup generally is built upon a key hypothesis that someone needs something (and that the solution the startup has in mind will meet that need). Clearly identifying that “someone” sets the stage for testing that hypothesis and (if the hypothesis is right) eventually being very focused in marketing to the right audience.

In the last article on SDG Games, we identified the problem that the business was setting out to solve as: “When most Christians read the Bible, they don’t know much about the geography being discussed, and so they lose valuable context in the stories that God has provided ‘for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16).”

So, as we set out to identify the target market for SDG Games, we can start with a fairly broad definition of “Bible-reading Christians.” Even if we narrow that down slightly to those in the United States, we are still dealing with a very broad market. According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study about 71% of Americans identify as Christian, and 45% of those read their bible at least once a week, so the Bible-reading Christian market would be nearly a third of the U.S. population.

In one sense, that’s good. That means that there is a very large potential market for SDG Games. But in another sense, that’s not good. There’s no way we can develop a deep understanding of the needs of a market this broad and diverse. As a startup, we need to focus on meeting the specific needs of a specific group of potential customers. If we can delight them, they can become advocates and evangelists for the broader market.

Given the nature of the first game that we are developing, we think it will appeal best to families playing games. So, the first step in segmenting the market would be to focus on those Christians who regularly read the Bible and who are parents. According to the Pew report, 30% of adult Christians are parents, and a slightly higher percent of parents regularly read scripture daily than non-parents, so a conservative estimate is that Bible-reading Christian parents make up an estimated 9% of the adult population — or about 22 million people. According to Pew, 58% of Christian adults are married (52%) or living together (6%), so doing simple math, 22 million parents translates to about 16 million households. That’s still a pretty big and diverse population!

Going one step deeper, since a key focus for SDG Games is that our games be educational, perhaps our initial target market should be Christian Homeschooling Families. There’s an estimated 4.0–5.0 million homeschooled children in the United States. Based on household size data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I estimate that there are an average of 2.27 homeschooled children per homeschooling family, so that means there are around 2 million homeschooling families in the U.S. These families homeschool for a variety of reasons and there’s is significant demographic diversity, but homeschooling has been particularly popular among conservative Christian families. I would guess 10% — 50% of all homeschooling families are Christian, so somewhere in the range of 200,000 to 1 million households. That’s a big enough market to go after, but a focused enough market to deeply understand and target.

Identifying the target market (Christian homeschooling families) is good, but to deeply understand the needs of this market, we need to take our thinking down to the level of the individual decision maker and how she will value what we have to offer. Marketers often use the concept of a persona to achieve this. They give the persona a personal name, describe her occupation, her family status, her demographics, and then a variety of factors on what, where, and how she buys the things she buys.

So here’s a hypothetical persona for our target customer:

Photo by Generated Photos
Name: Kelly Jo
Age: 35
Occupation: Homeschooling Mom/Homemaker
Family: Married with 2 Kids: Zach age 12 and Erin age 9
Websites/Magazines: Facebook,, The Old Schoolhouse
Where Shop: Amazon,,

As part of deeply understanding this hypothetical customer, we need to create a profile of how products like ours might fit into her life and work. The approach that I like to use is borrowed from Value Proposition Design, a book by Alex Osterwalder and his team at Strategyzer. It can best be understood as asking Kelly Jo three questions and imagining her answers: What jobs are you trying to do? What do you hope to gain by doing those jobs? What are the obstacles, risks, and bad outcomes that make it painful to accomplish those jobs and achieve those gains?

I imagine Kelly Jo describing her jobs as teaching her kids the content and skills they need to be successful in life, raising her kids in the faith, keeping the house running smoothly, and enjoying life together.

In the near term, the gains she hopes to get out of these jobs include the satisfaction of seeing her kids learn and mature (and learning alongside them), the joy of seeing them come to faith in Christ, and having fun doing it all. In the longer term, she has hopeful expectation of seeing her kids be successful in their families, careers, and faithful walk with Christ.

However, the pains encountered along the way include the challenges in integrating those activities and goals (e.g. teaching important content/skills without compromising Biblical truth, keeping on academic schedule in a way that is enjoyable for all, getting everything done in the home and classroom). Sometimes Christian-specific resources fall short on the quality or fun aspects. Sometimes academic resources contradict Biblical teaching. It’s hard to make school fun. And the laundry and dishes sometimes pile up while we complete a big school project.

We can’t hope to introduce products that will deliver all those gains or eliminate all those pains, but understanding them all helps us as we develop our games to keep Kelly Jo’s overall needs in perspective.

Based on those hypotheses, we can represent all of this with a customer profile:

Of course, all of these are hypotheses which will be tested. More about that in my next article in this series.

Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Bethlehem

Last week we looked at Jesus’ first journey — from Nazareth to Judah — when his mother visited her relative Elizabeth while Jesus was still in the womb.

After three months (Luke 1:56), Mary (and Jesus) returned to Nazareth.

Now in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant. (Luke 2:1-5)

Jesus’ second journey, still in Mary’s womb, was from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As with last week’s journey, this was a relatively long one. Nazareth is in the north, in Galilee, and Bethlehem is in the south, in Judaea. According to Google Maps, the distance is about 160 km (or almost 100 miles) and would take 33 hours on foot on today’s modern paths and roads.

It is also a hilly journey. Nazareth is located in a range at 1145 feet above sea level. Bethlehem, like Jerusalem, is in the hill country of Judea with an elevation of 2556 feet. In between the two, the travelers would have come down into the valleys and crossed the Plain of Esdraelon (or Valley of Jezreel) before crossing the highlands of Samaria, and then ascending again into the hill country of Judah. For example, they likely passed near modern Mizra (elevation 341 feet) in the Plain of Esdraelon just 5 miles south of Nazareth, and near modern Nablus (elevation 1768 feet) in the Samaritan highlands. (So 1145 ft -> 341 ft -> 1768 ft -> 2556 ft.)

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come out to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings out are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

Last week we learned that Nazareth was small and obscure in Jesus’ day. Bethlehem, even though small, had appeared several times in the Old Testament from the earliest days of the patriarchs.

In Genesis (35:19 and 48:7) we read that Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died giving birth to their youngest son, Benjamin, on the way to Bethlehem.

Much of the beautiful book of Ruth is also set in and around Bethlehem.

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22)

But, it was Ruth and Boaz’s great-grandson who truly made Bethlehem famous.

Yahweh said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided a king for myself among his sons.” (1 Samuel 16:1)

David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, was a humble shepherd tending the sheep in the fields around Bethlehem when he was called home and anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel.

Mary’s Joseph was descended from this David and so it was that, in response to Caesar Augustus’ decree, Joseph brought his young family to Bethlehem and it is here that Jesus was born.

That glorious event was announced to shepherds watching their flocks in the nearby fields, similar to how David had once spent his nights.

There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you today, in David’s city, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:8-14)

When we read the Bible, there are many things we don’t know or understand. Sometimes it’s because God just hasn’t given us all the details in His Word (for example, from last week’s story, the name of Elizabeth’s town). Other things we probably misunderstand because the way people lived in Israel over 2000 years ago was very different from how we live today.

For example, we are told: She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

When we read this, it is hard for us not to imagine something like a modern hotel and something like a modern barn or stable. But that is not likely what Joseph and Mary encountered in Bethlehem.

The earliest historical description of a specific birthplace is from Origin in 248 AD who describes a cave in Bethlehem with a manger that is pointed out to visitors as where Christ was born. The Church of the Nativity is built above such a cave.

But perhaps a more compelling picture is painted by Kenneth E. Bailey, a New Testament scholar who spent 40 years living and teaching in the Middle East. In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, he explains “In the Middle East, historical memories are long… In such a world a man like Joseph could have appeared in Bethlehem and told people, ‘I am Joseph, son of Heli, son of Mattat, the son of Levi’ and most homes in town would be open to him. … Being of [David’s] famous family, Joseph would have been welcome anywhere in town… Simple rural communities the world over always assist one of their own women in childbirth regardless of the circumstances. … Surely the community would have sensed its responsibility to help Joseph find adequate shelter for Mary and provide the care she needed….”

And so he calls into question our traditional understanding of the “inn” and the “manger” (or “feeding trough”).  He explains “simple village homes in Palestine often had but two rooms. One was exclusively for guests. That room could be attached to the end of the house or be a ‘prophet’s chamber’ on the roof, as in the story of Elijah. The main room was a ‘family room’ where the entire family cooked, ate, slept and lived. The end of the room next to the door was either a few feet lower than the rest of the floor or blocked off with heavy timbers. Each night into that designated area, the family cow, donkey and a few sheep would be driven. … Such simple homes can be traced from the time of David up to the middle of the twentieth century.”

“If Joseph and Mary were taken into a private home and at birth Jesus was placed in a manger in that home, how is the word inn in Luke 2:7 to be understood? … the Greek word does not refer to ‘a room in an inn’ but rather to ‘space’ … The Greek word in Luke 2:7… is katalyma. This is not the ordinary word for a commercial inn. … Literally, a katalyma is simply ‘a place to stay’ and can refer to many types of shelters. The three that are options for this story are inn, house, and guest room. Indeed, Luke used this key term on one other occasion in his Gospel….” 

He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him into the house which he enters.  Tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’  He will show you a large, furnished upper room. Make preparations there.” (Luke 22:10-12)

So, we have Jesus completing his second journey, from his family’s home in Nazareth to a lowly and common space (whatever form it took) where He made His visible entry into this world.

The map above is from the current prototype of the Journeys with Jesus game board showing the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

The SDG Games Startup Strategy Strawman

What are the hypotheses that have started this strategic journey?

Modern startups recognize that the path from initial concept to successful launch is not a straight line. In fact, it involves almost literally going in circles.

In 2008 Eric Ries wrote a blog post titled “The lean startup” which reflected changes that he’d been observing in the entrepreneurial environment. The name stuck and a few years later he expanded it into the best selling book The Lean Startup.

For each of my first few startups we followed the old model. My co-founders and I had a great idea. We spent a few months researching and writing a business plan. We pulled together the resources to make it real. Built everything and launched. 

That business plan was full of “truth” statements that started with phrases like “we will…”, “customers will…”, and “the market will…”. We really believed all those statements! In reality, once we launched we found out that customers didn’t…, the market wouldn’t…, and we couldn’t actually do all those things. Sometimes it all worked out okay as we figured it out as we went. But statistically, 9 out of every 10 new businesses failed to survive that startup phase.

The new model described by Ries focused on high tech startups that could leverage new technologies and new development approaches to try a radically different model. Instead of spending months developing a lengthy document full of statements claiming to be true, startups could recognize that what they had was a collection of hypotheses that needed to be tested. Technology made it (relatively) easy to rapidly and inexpensively test those hypotheses to find out whether or not they actually were true.

The lean startup methodology replaces the lengthy business plan phase with a period of rapid iteration and learning. For any given hypothesis, the team builds a test, runs an experiment, evaluates the results, modifies the hypothesis, and then repeats the whole process over again until they know what is true. This is called the “build-measure-learn” loop. 

Startups are still wrong (at least) 9 times out of 10, but those mistakes are made in rapid inexpensive experiments that don’t kill the company, but rather lead to the most successful launch possible (or sometimes abandoning a bad idea before much money and time is lost).

While this lean startup methodology is best understood in terms of product development, I believe that it also applies to strategy.

When I work with startups, I encourage them, very early in their life, to develop what I call the Startup Strategy Strawman

In business, a strawman proposal is a simple concept provided as a starting point for debate with the hope and expectation that team members will quickly “poke holes” in it, pointing out its weaknesses and identifying ways to make it stronger. Apparently, the U.S. Department of Defense originated the term and had a series of names to reflect the strengthening of the work — from strawman to woodenman to tinman and eventually to stoneman.

So, the Startup Strategy Strawman is a starting point for the business strategy. It captures the key initial hypotheses behind the startup concept, with the expectation and hope that flaws will be found and the overall strategy significantly strengthened before actual business launch.

A Startup Strategy Strawman should at the very least contain three hypotheses:

  • Problem: What problem are you trying to solve? Who has this problem?
  • Solution: How are you going to solve this problem?
  • Cash Flow: Ultimately, how will this solution be funded? For a business, this is usually reflected in the revenue model. For a non-profit, it may be a broader funding strategy.

So, for this SDG Games startup business idea, what is the Startup Strategy Strawman?

  • Problem: When most Christians read the Bible, they don’t know much about the geography being discussed, and so they lose important context in the stories that God has provided “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Solution: Develop games that Christians of all ages will enjoy playing that will engrain in their minds an understanding of Biblical geography so that they will naturally envision the places and journeys involved as they read God’s Word.
  • Cash Flow: We will sell these games for a profit to Christian families.

In the spirit of lean startup and strawman proposals, please let me know your reaction to these hypotheses. Feel free to drop me a note at [email protected] to “poke holes” in this concept. 

In coming articles, we will test and refine these hypotheses.


Journeys of Jesus: Nazareth to Judah

I started down the SDG Games path because I didn’t know as much about Biblical geography as I wanted. My goal wasn’t to become an expert in the topic, I just wanted to understand the context of the Biblical stories as I read God’s Word.

However, as I’ve started developing the first game, Journeys with Jesus, I’m learning things that many would never encounter, so I want to share with you some of the more interesting and helpful facts.

So today I’m starting a new series of articles about things I’ve learned along the way, and I thought a good way to do so would be to focus on the journeys I’m including in the game Journeys with Jesus. Let’s start at the very beginning…

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and shall name him ‘Jesus.’  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”  (Luke 1:30-33)

Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and in a wondrous miracle, Mary became the mother of Jesus.

Nazareth is in Galilee, which is in the north of Israel. In Jesus’ day it was a small village, probably with fewer than 500 people. It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament or in non-Biblical writings prior to the time of Christ.

Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:46)

Interestingly, in modern times, Nazareth is a much more prominent city with a population of nearly 80,000. Today it is most notable for two identities. As the boyhood home of Jesus, it is a center for Christian pilgrims and tourists. It is also the political center for Arabs in Israel. According to Wikipedia, the population of Nazareth today is 69% Muslim and 31% Christian.

Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)

Jesus’ first journey is described later in Luke 1 when Mary, carrying Jesus in her womb, visits her relative Elizabeth. We don’t know exactly where Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias lived, it is only referenced as “a city of Judah”.

Judah was in the south of Israel. By the time of Jesus, the area previously called Judah was now usually called Judea (sometimes spelled Judaea). In fact, I think this passage is the only place in the New Testament (other than direct quotes from and references to the Old Testament scriptures) that the name Judah is used for this area. Towards the end of Luke 1, when Elizabeth gives birth to John, the area where they live is referred to as Judea.

Fear came on all who lived around them, and all these sayings were talked about throughout all the hill country of Judea. (Luke 1:65)

Judea appears to be the Greek adaptation of the name Judah. When Joshua led the conquest of the promised land and the allotment of the land to the different tribes of Israel, the tribe of Judah received a large portion in the very southernmost part of the land.

Later, after King Solomon’s death the kingdom was divided, the northern portion was called Israel or Ephraim and the southern was called Judah, but also included parts of what had been Benjamin’s, Dan’s, and Simeon’s allotments. From that point on, the definition of the territory called Judah and then Judea became a political definition rather than a tribal one and the border would move around a bit over the years, decades, and centuries.

Earlier in Luke 1, Zacharias had been serving in the temple in Jerusalem, so it’s possible that he and Elizabeth lived near Jerusalem. According to Google Maps, the distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem is 149 km (93 miles) and today (with modern roads and walkways) it would take 31 hours to walk between the two cities.

Because I don’t know where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived, I don’t include this first journey in the game, although there is a journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, which reflects the annual trips that Jesus’ family would take to Jerusalem.

His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

The image above is from the current prototype of the game board showing the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem in Judaea.

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to continue to read these stories of the journeys and places in Journeys with Jesus, sign up in the sidebar to receive updates.

Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

SDG Games Origin Story

My family really enjoys playing games. Game night is a fun tradition that we all look forward to. We have our favorite games we play all the time, which are a mix of board games, card games, dice games, and tile games.

We also have been blessed to be able to travel, so some of our favorite games are those that involve world geography. One of the Ten Days games is always in our current “favorite games” stack. I especially appreciate how Ten Days in Africa has given me a good sense of where countries are in Africa. 

Before we got this game, I could tell you where South Africa was, generally where Egypt was, and maybe a few other countries where I had personal connections with people over the years (e.g. Malawi), but most of the continent was a mystery to me. Now, I have a much better sense for where many African countries are. If you asked me to point out Ivory Coast (or any of a couple dozen countries or so) on a map, I may not put my finger precisely on the right latitude and longitude, but I think, by the grace of God, I’d be pretty close.

Of course, we also enjoy the Ticket to Ride games, although they can take awhile to set up and play, so we don’t play them every time we sit down to the game table. It’s especially fun to play a game where we “travel” to places we have been or with which we have some other personal connection.

So, it was in the course of playing these games that I started to get the idea for a game (or games) that would help give me a sense for Biblical geography. 

When I read the Bible, I come across names of places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth. Capernaum, Cana, Gadara. I read stories of Jesus or Abraham or Paul traveling from place to place, and I have very little sense for what those journeys might be like. Is Bethlehem near Jerusalem? (It is — about 8 km or 5 miles.) What about Nazareth, is that near Bethlehem? (Relatively speaking, it is not — about 155 km or 100 miles.)

How would I design a game that would be fun to play, that would teach me about the geography of the places I read about in the Bible, and that would be faithful to God’s Word?

Thus began the concept that is becoming SDG Games (the business) and Journeys with Jesus (the first product of that business). 

If this concept interests you, you can sign-up at the SDG Games website to receive updates as the concept develops and, Lord willing, eventually becomes a game that you can buy and enjoy.

This is the first article in a series on the Startup Strategic Journey of SDG Games.