Deciding to build a startup, product or app might be the first step in founding a business, but what comes next? If you have made the decision to go forward while having a business idea, or even if you do not have one yet, such exciting venture can be overwhelming at first. Now it is time to figure out the next steps.
1. Shaping An Idea
No business idea yet? No shame, even better!
Cure your own itch. Or start talking to potential customers, leveraging methodologies such as Idea Extraction, a term originally coined by Dane Maxwell, who is running an education program called The Foundation. Listen to one of his customer interviews over the phone right here.
You know, an idea is probably only worth pursuing if you serve a need that at least some people other than you might have, too. And it better be a desperate need, also called a “pain” or problem worth solving. Otherwise nobody will put any real money on the table as soon your product is ready.
Have an idea in your mind? Time for a challenge!
Map it out on the Business Model Canvas (instead of setting up ridiculous business plans already outdated the day they are finalized), which helps to structure and turn (at first seemingly) genius business ideas into thought-through concepts; later, start and continuously keep testing your underlying assumptions (hypothesis testing). A PDF download of the original canvas is available here. Also check out a good example of what it looks like if all the blanks are filled in.
“Get out of the building and talk to people.”
Present your idea to people and incorporate their feedback following the principles of Customer Development, best summarized in Steve Blank’s free video series How to build a startup. His lengthier reference piece is called Startup Owner’s Manual, and although it’s better than its predecessor, allow plenty of time to read it.
At the very beginning of your customer development efforts, especially for conducting (potential) customer interviews, be sure to get it right. Interviewing Users is a helpful start, so is the Mom Test (loosely based on the fact that friends and family always tell you that your business idea is great, so you’d better work on tough questions that not even your mom could lie about). Rob Fitzpatrick, author of the latter, has also given an interesting speech on his early thoughts on this topic at the Pioneers Festival in 2012.
2. From Idea To Concept
Put something in the hand of future customers.
If you need to (rapidly) prototype a complex product, try applying the Stanford-driven methodology. With Design Thinking, pen and paper, or other media you can leverage to quickly build things for people to check out (such as fake PowerPoint marketing brochures). This should be done before you start actually developing the software, whether you will do it or have someone else do it.
Click dummies help you and people understand.
To unmistakably communicate a software concept (and instead of writing lengthy Word documents), nail down your thoughts on your product with the future user interface in mind, using rough scribbles (for you) or detailed wireframes (for others). You should probably also put them together in a working prototype that feels somewhat similar to the real app experience using tools like POP, or, for more professional users, InVision. In each case, your input might be based on quick pen and paper sketches, wireframes made with the popular editor Balsamiq, or designs made using interface design tools such as Sketch.
3. Building A Prototype
Find the smallest set of features that address your customers’ most important need.
From among all the ideas for features you might have, extract the smallest set that cures the most relevant pain a typical customer might have, resulting in the so-called Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and quickly iterate on your product as described in The Lean Startup. Launching with a minimum feature set might not be feasible for everyone, not even early adopters, but do not make the mistake of taking stealth-mode and big-bang launches as prerequisites for later success.
Start small, test and validate your solution with every step along the way.
When building your MVP for validating the very first hypotheses while betting as little money (risk) as possible, consider using offshore resources found through Elance (hiring freelancers, getting proper invoices) or oDesk (mostly outsourcing on a per-project basis, without proper invoices).
Then leverage early adaptors, get in touch with them directly, listen to their needs and incorporate their feedback. Improve and carefully extend your product over time, maybe even entirely rebuild it once (and only once) to prepare for future growth — if you are growing faster then you ever imagined, a possible sign that you are on a path towards success already.