Ask the right questions from your early startup idea.
Groundbreaking technology breaks little ground if no one wants to use it.
This is true elsewhere as well. Academics can spend hours poring over research that ends up providing little value to real-life applications. In football, points are scored only when the ball goes into the goal. Masterchef contestants create dishes that they think are fantastic, but if the judges don’t agree, the food goes straight into the bin.
A common mistake that startups make is to believe in their product or service so much, they lose sight of what the target audience wants from the solution. After all, forks are pretty useless if a customer has ordered soup. Steer clear of that pitfall by asking yourself three essential questions early on.
- Am I solving an actual problem?
No matter how novel a solution is, it’s not going to click if it doesn’t solve an actual problem. This is one of the reasons why blockchain is taking so much time to catch up – people can’t see the problems that it can potentially solve. It’s also why so many digital marketing firms go under; in a red ocean market, some other firm is probably already solving customer problems effectively, reducing you to a mere replicator.
Some problems that your product or service can help solve could be popular or regular, such as the need to order home delivery. Some others, such as the requirement for face masks and ventilators, are urgent and essential.
Form a hypothesis about what problem your solution is taking on, and if it is not going to make more than a dent, you might want to drop the idea.
- Will people want to use my solution?
Founders can have a great idea such as an interesting application of new technology, and think that this is enough to march out into the real world. It is the most intuitive way to think, but it’s not fully effective when it comes to building a business.
Switch that thought process to think from the user end first – rather than thinking about how to make people use your product, test your hypothesis to know whether users will want your product in the first place.
Use an iterative design methodology such as testing a minimum viable product to know what your target customers really want, and how you can give that to them most effectively. This will set straight any assumptions about the problem you are solving, as well manage as audience behavior toward the solution.
As long as you stay focused on what value the solution brings to the customer and validate it with customer insights, you are in a good place to move forward.
- Do I know how to grow my business?
You know what problem your idea helps solves for users, and you know what product design works best for them. Now you need to actually get those users, or at least demonstrate to an investor that you can.
Startups can demonstrate growth through several different factors, but the most common ones are number of users and revenue. Figure out what strategies and channels you will use to attract users or paying customers.
Growth should ideally show in a linear curve. If it does not look like your business will grow over time and there is no way you can influence audience behavior otherwise, it’s probably time to revisit the two previous questions.
Test ideas in low-cost ways and employ user responses as input when deciding whether it’s time to pivot or hang on. The most important thing is keep a ear to the ground so you know what your users are saying, and feed that back into your strategy.