So you want to change the world using technology? You think you have a killer idea that will blow the socks off the technology startup world? This post will provide you a simple blueprint as to how to validate and test your idea, increasing your chances of success.
There is a palpable excitement in the air when you walk around Tech City in London – even with Brexit rumbling away in the background! There’s a frenzy of activity as entrepreneurs leverage technology to make dreams a reality. Technology has changed our lives for the better in many ways and will continue to do so at an accelerating rate with the introduction of the IoT, machine learning, blockchain and all that juicy stuff.
However, not all these startups are going to survive. Some entrepreneurs are just making products for the sake of making products, which creates…well, a LOT of noise.
So with all this noise, how do begin to validate your idea and give yourself the best possible chance of success?
In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the key things you need to do ‘before’ you launch your startup. This does not apply to companies with some level of traction.
Why Care What I’m Saying?
To give you a little context, I have founded 4 businesses, 3 successes and 1 failure. Specifically founding Rebelhack has given me a rare glimpse into the magical world of technology businesses that not many people have the privileged to see. I have seen the good, the bad and the runaway successes.
I have worked alongside:
- Startups pre-funding and helped them scale into Venture Capital investment.
- Venture backed scaleups to augment their growth strategies and help them gain insights for growth from their data.
- Multi-million pound revenue businesses aiming at 10x growth in a single year (which we’re working on right now!).
To top it all off, I have built a growth marketing agency-software hybrid (Rebelhack), bringing a fully managed service and technology together, delivering a massive agency success in London in under 3 years! Rebelhack now work with some of the best technology businesses out there and have one of the best growth teams in the world.
Here are five things you should start doing immediately if you think you have a great idea for a startup.
What user problem are you really solving?
This is where it begins. You realise something frustrates you in your personal or business life and could be done better using technology. The big challenge, however, is identifying and articulating the real problem. This is really hard.
More often than not, the problem you’re trying to solve is not what you think it is. Choosing the right problem to solve can make significant differences to what your business becomes.
Look at Uber and Hailo. They both tried to work on what might be perceived as the same problem – moving people around the city. However, there was one obvious winner. Uber.
Why? Uber identified the problem correctly, found a way to fix it and took off into the stratosphere… Hailo didn’t quite identify the problem properly and ultimately died a death.
I believe Hailo misidentified the actual problem they were aiming to solve, and focussed on the ‘hailing’ process, hence the name! The real problem was that licensed taxis were expensive, and Uber took about solving this in many ways, but ultimately increasing supply by helping more people make money and become taxi drivers!
*I know there are new issues with regards to legislation, but I will ignore that in this post.
Now you know what problem you want to solve, it’s time to figure out how you plan on solving it. As you know, there are many ways to solve a problem.Startups are like oranges, there are many ways to peel them Click To Tweet
When we take on a new partner (aka customer), we undertake a Problem Solution Analysis Workshop. We interrogate the founders of the business to find out if their proposed solution is solving a real world problem in the most efficient way. It’s a great way to really drill down and get to grips with the core beating heart of why the business exists from a user’s perspective.
For the sake of clarity I have included one of our agendas for this workshop below.
The aim of this meeting is to identify what you think the problem faced by customers really is and how they are currently circumventing it. It should take no more than an hour. I am keen to get your perspective on a few questions.
- What problem do you think that we are solving with COMPANY NAME?
- How are users currently going around that problem?
- How does your product/service solve the problem?
- Who do you think the current customers are? – role, gender, age, stage in career, context for purchasing, location, size of company, company name?
- Are there multiple people in the decision making process?
- If so, who?
- Role, gender, age, stage in career, location, size of company, context for purchasing company name?
- If so, who?
- What are their main objections to buying?
- Where are the current strengths of the service?
- Where are the current weaknesses of the service?
- Where are there opportunities for growth?
- What have you already learnt about…
- your competitors?
- Channels that work and why?
- Channels that don’t work and why?
- What are your priorities for growth experimentation?
- What do you want to learn over the coming 6 months?
- What does success look like in a year from now?
Beyond the meeting we also undertake user research, where we identify if the ‘real world problem’ identified by the founders is a genuine problem others encounter. We use a combination of onsite, email, phone and in-person surveys. Our job is to go out and validate (or falsify) the assumptions on which the business is looking to be founded.
So ask yourself what assumptions are you building a business on, because it’s these assumptions that you want to test early on. You should be able to distill these down to a few key sentences, which I call “belief statements”. Then go and find out if others share your beliefs.
Know where to talk to your niche markets
A niche market is a group of people that already talk to one another (either in real-world or digital spaces) so they can do your marketing for you via word of mouth.
You need to keep your launch super focused. Know your early advocates by name and be regularly engaging with them on relevant social media. Each niche market will have a slightly different set of needs, therefore focusing on the needs of one niche will help you solve their specific problem.
Identify 3 niche markets and the channels where they reside. Then get busy and engage with everyone in that niche – over time gaining influence, but more importantly listening and learning about their pain points. You should be looking at channels where you can do outreach on a 1 to 1 basis. Social media is a great place to start.Think small, think focused. You want to gain a niche market monopoly first. Click To Tweet
Identify the value propositions for your personas in those niches
Ok, so you have now identified a problem, validated that others have it too and have a simple solution that people find compelling. You even know where your potential customers hang out and have some influence! The job now is to learn how to explain what it does and the value it gives the user.
The main point of this stage is to find a compelling value-add for the user that makes them want to part with their contact details in order to be part of something special. Again, wrap your value proposition around the problem and think about how your solution solves that problem. It should be short and simple. Don’t use big words. Rob Fitzpatrick suggests you ask your Mum – if she doesn’t get it, no one will.
Now, build and deploy a simple landing page. You can use a great product such as Launch Rock or Unbounce for this. On this page you should have a simple form field that says something like:
““If you want to know when we launch just add your contact details below – you’ll get early access”.
Don’t forget to give them a reason, like ‘early access’ in this instance.
Ask your potential customers what to build
So this is the bit I think many people get wrong. You have a validated problem and a simple solution. Now you need more validation and some guidance from prospective users about what direction to go in first.
Build 2 basic surveys using SurveyMonkey that do the following:
- Identify which product categories are most important to the users.
- Identify which specific product features should be built first.
Just use a basic list in SurveyMonkey and let the users prioritise. You will be amazed at the insights you get from doing this. It also helps you stay engaged with your early advocates and makes them feel part of the journey.
You should be able to acquire anywhere between 10 and 100 new completed surveys per week (depending how much outreach you are doing, and how big the market is). These numbers are not likely to provide a statistically significant data set, instead they should inform your instinct.
Remember, all you have at this stage is gut instinct, and the role of data is merely to help you make business decisions. Don’t get bogged down in Bayesian Statistics – not just yet.
Once you have this, you should be able to form a product roadmap and get developing.Release often, release early. Feedback is critical - you won’t succeed without it. Click To Tweet
Raising investment for a startup
It now sounds as though you’re ready to invest. Either you can seed fund it (aka bootstrap it) or go out to the seed investment market and raise some funds under SEIS. If you don’t know where to look for angel investors here are a few I am aware of (but I cannot vouch for them personally):
Touch base and start to pitch your idea. How to do that is another post.
To summarise, this is your early startup roadmap:
- Identify a real problem.
- Identify a range of potential solutions to that problem.
- Find and engage with your niche markets, those with that same problem.
- Find out how to describe the value your solution offers.
- Let your early advocates guide your product roadmap.
Once you have this you should have a real problem with a robust solution, know where and who your early advocates are and how to describe your solution to them, and what your product roadmap looks like.
Now you’re ready to get out there and make some magic!