Launching a startup takes a lot of hard work, and too often founders spend way too much time on ideas that ultimately won't work. The Founder Institute, a global entrepreneur training and startup launch program, tries to help aspiring founders refine and test their ideas before spending years building a product nobody wants, and pursuing a business that will ultimately fail.
The easiest way to do this is to move quickly and cheaply to launch "the startup" (not the product), so that you can collect real market feedback on your value proposition, your target customer, and your major assumptions. In this infographic, Adeo Ressi (Founder & CEO of the Founder Institute) has outlined an easy 10 Steps to Launch for Less Than $1,500, which was recently featured on Entrepreneur Magazine in an article by Catherine Clifford.
See the infographic below, and then scroll down further for a full explanation of the steps.
The first six steps of the 10-step process are dedicated towards making your startup look professional and legitimate to an outsider.
- Step 1: Get a professional domain name and email. We recommend using name.com for domain registry, and Google Apps for your email.
- Step 2: Produce wireframes and mockups of your site. Start to plot the key functionality of the product and think through how it will look. Protoshare and balsamiq are both great options.
- Step 3: A professional logo is a must! If you're not a professional designer, services like Elance and Crowdspring can connect you with great logo designers.
- Step 4: Create a simple, rudimentary pitch deck with PowerPoint. Your slides should be simple, and must include your vision, market, product, revenue and team.
- Step 5: Launch a landing page, or simple site to start bringing your brand together, and capture leads. Include your logo, description, screenshots or mock-ups, and an email sign up form. To get you started, we recommend services like launchrock, Squarespace, or unbounce.
- Step 6: Create and posting on a company blog. Blogging shows the world (and most importantly, search engines) that you are alive! Set up "blog.yourcompany.com", and start posting 2 times per week on industry news and your company progress. We recommend using WordPress or Blogger to get started.
- Step 7: Test your marketing using a service like AYTM to survey your target market, and then run a variety of online ads to discover the propositions and keywords that resonate with them. We also recommend using Facebook and/or Google ads to laser-target your desired customer, testing multiple marketing messages and value propositions in both the ads themselves, and the landing pages that they point to.
This research gives you several benefits. First off, you can discover which messages and pain points resonate the best, which is critical learning that you can then work into your product plan, site, and pitch deck. Second, you have identified your baseline cost of customer acquisition, which will be useful for future financial modeling. And finally, you have created an initial database of people who are interested in your product that you can (Step 8) Survey for even deeper insights on your idea, and your target customer. What are the biggest pain points your product can solve, what would your customers look for in a solution, and what would they be willing to pay? If possible, get them on the phone - odds are, you will learn many surprising things that will drastically change the way you view your business idea.
Then, grab some sticky notes and (Step 9) Create a product roadmap that will allow you to test the biggest assumptions of your business. Here is the process we recommend: (a) Write down all of your planned features onto sticky notes, organizing them into feature groups. (b) Once you are done listing the features, place them on a whiteboard with the most important feature groups to the left, and the most important features on the top. (c) Then, based on your market research and customer surveying, define what your minimum viable product (MVP) will be to test the biggest assumptions you are making as a business. Ideally, this would contain less than 3 groups of features, and as little number of individual sticky note features as possible.
Once you have defined your MVP, it’s time to simply jump off the ledge and (Step 10) Launch a crappy version of the product. If you wanted to define this product, it would most likely be a “pre-alpha”, and in most cases you can cobble together a collection of freeware, open source, or easily available products, along with some manual labor, to mimic your base functionality. For example, if you need to sell something, you could simply use Eventbrite and embed the ticket form onto your site. Or, if your business idea is a geolocation game with checkins for the iPhone, you can test the assumption that people would checkin often to get access to in-game rewards by launching a demo site pointing people to a Facebook page where, if people post with their location a certain number of times per day, they would win a gift certificate to Starbucks. The point with this launch is to test the fundamental assumptions of your business before you really start to invest time and money on building a proper company (legal and hiring) and product (development).
In the end, there is no step-by-step recipe for success, but a certain recipe for failure is to make assumptions, and proceed blindly down a path without doing the necessary market testing. Follow the steps above and you can validate (or invalidate) your business idea before dedicating too much time and money. And, if you can validate your idea, then the real hard work begins!