Want to start a start-up? Here is how you do it.
Want to sell your business- all you need to know is its USP and a guide to start your own startup Photograph: (Others)
So, you have this great idea that has set your mind ablaze and you see it as the next big thing. But… you have no prior technical experience, negligible capital and no clear sense of how and where to start! Fret not. Here’s a non-tech start-up founder telling you how to embark on what will be a long, arduous but extremely fulfilling journey. Recommended for this journey: “jugaad” attitude, willingness to learn and a deep conviction in your idea.
Start-ups are “experiments to create value” and as anyone who has ever entered a lab knows, many experiments fail
While the principles of starting up and running any successful business (tech/ non-tech) are essentially the same, what really differs is the growth rate (Alibaba, Facebook, Google - none of them existed 20 years back!) and the extreme uncertainty (start-ups are “experiments to create value” and as anyone who has ever entered a lab knows, many experiments fail). For more on this, do read Eric Ries’ "The Lean Start Up"- widely regarded as ‘the’ book for start ups.
Step 1 Whose problem is it anyway? –ground reality
Whom is this product or service meant for? What problem is your product or service meant to solve? What are people doing currently to solve this problem? While most ideas start from a personal experience or frustration, they should be validated with a wider audience that extends beyond your immediate circle of family and friends. Quantitative research in the form of short surveys and forms are okay for gathering answers around “how much”, “how often”, "yes/no" type questions. I’d, however, recommend using qualitative research too. For instance, observations for unprompted responses and conversations to gain an in-depth understanding of current habits and usages as well as formulating if and how your solution can be a better alternative. This exercise will also help you build user personas and define the basic features and desired user experience for your product.
Tip: There is a great Youtube series “Start up school” by Y Combinator, featuring different speakers and topics. Spend an hour on it each day and within a month, you are guaranteed to feel smarter and wiser about startups (and life, in general). You may like to read Paul Graham’s essays as well! You may also want to register a domain name, get familiar with the legal landscape and to join start-up groups. Walk in the shoes of your potential users- this could mean following key influencers or joining social media groups.
Recommended Resources: (i) Surveymonkey, Typeform (ii) "Don’t Make Me Think" by Steve Krug
Step 2 The big picture- from 80K feet above
You are possibly not the first person to think of this idea and you shall likely not be the last. Before going any further, always a good strategy to understand who you are up against and the current industry and category dynamics- e.g. how big is this industry, what is the growth rate, who are the key players, how long have they been around, what is their USP (unique selling point). Which market (demographic/ geographic) are you planning to launch this product or service in? Try and put numbers to assess if the market is big and lucrative enough for you to enter.
If you are really passionate, you could even do an online course on Coursera or LinkedIn to learn the basics of coding, subscribe to all free tech newsletters and set a goal of learning about the different technologies.
Tip: This is also a good time to get familiar with the industry happenings, terminology, and news. If you are really passionate, you could even do an online course on Coursera or LinkedIn to learn the basics of coding (a friend of mine running an EdTech start up did!), subscribe to all free tech newsletters (Tech in Asia, Your Story etc.) and set a goal of learning about the different technologies, at least enough to know which one suits your objectives and why.
Recommended Resources: (i) Industry reports from Euromonitor, Nielsen; (ii) Data from World Bank, CIA World Factbook (iii) Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends; Digital in 2016 (We are Social)
Step 3 Mirror, Mirror, what do you see- Not perfection, an MVP!
For many perfectionists, the very concept of “Minimum viable product” might be anathema, but it is a smart way to assess what works and what doesn’t in a resource-efficient way.
As part of step 1, you may have established the market to be huge but why do you think you can play and win in this market? What can potentially differentiate you from the rest?
Sometimes the most compelling products are not the best or cheapest but with that one cool feature that stands out from the rest and gets you your first set of users. Don’t wait for too long. Build a scrappy prototype and test it out. For many perfectionists, the very concept of “Minimum viable product” might be anathema, but it is a smart way to assess what works and what doesn’t in a resource-efficient way. Do you want to sell lemonade online? Try running a physical stall that sells lemonade for one day- it will teach you much more about the critical factors, such as demand variation, inventory management, staff allocation, managing wait time than 10 strategy or whiteboard sessions. Test and learn, Ship and learn, Fail and learn- don’t let your ego get in the way!
Tip: Most non-tech founders take the help of a UX designer and/or a coding agency who can build the first version of the product. Create a Product Requirement Document ( Example 1 and 2 ) and speak to other startup founders to see if they can recommend anyone. Work with a defined limited budget and an extremely clear list of deliverables put in a written agreement, along with a non-disclosure agreement. Delays and bugs are inevitable- build adequate buffers so you don’t lose sleep over it.
Resources: (i) Free website builders- Wix, Sitebuilder (ii) Prototyping tools- Invision, UXPin, Origami. Most of these have free trial versions.
In this part of the article, we tried building a macro view on start-ups where in we discussed why it is so crucial developing an understanding of the user and the problem to be solved while launching an MVP without trying to be too perfect.