The road to market is rarely straightforward…
Launching any kind of business is a test of character. Ultimately, entrepreneurs hope it will be rewarding – both personally and financially – and in many cases it is. But the road to market is littered with potential obstacles.
If you’re someone whose startup idea is your ‘baby’, just know that it’s going to come in for scrutiny in the development phase. It may even morph into something entirely different prior to launch.
When it comes to tech startups, the industry is ultra-competitive. Just look at the cut-throat world of Silicon Valley. The goalposts are always moving. You’re basically in a race against the clock to beat competitors to market, only no one quite knows the exact timeframe.
Remember that success is rarely gained by chance (not solely, anyway). Thorough preparation is necessary. So, now that you’re sufficiently grounded in the real-world, here’s what you’ll need to do to move your startup from risk into reality.
- What’s your idea?
There’s nothing quite like that first lightbulb moment. It’s exhilarating, seeing infinite possibilities sprawl out in front of you. But once an idea sets up camp in your consciousness, it’s time to start thinking practically.
Your excitement or skill in a certain area is a great asset, but it’s no guarantee of success. Knuckle down for some research and investigate exactly how viable your idea is. Who is it for? How valuable will people find it? What will you need to bring it to fruition?
The best starting point is usually knowing your idea solves a key problem or addresses a priority need. Look for a sizeable niche – a market with enough demand to be worth your while, but niche enough that it’s not already dominated by other, bigger brands. This space affords you the opportunity to compete and thrive.
Get your brand value proposition nailed down and seize the opportunity.
2. What’s your strategy?
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a clear strategy, or business plan. Without one, you’re basically playing Marco Polo with success – and the longer you’re flailing around in the shallow end, the more money and credibility you’re potentially hemorrhaging.
Line up your priorities in terms of where you’ll play and how you’ll win, as well as budgets, prospective talent and investors. What are competitors doing? What are your unique selling points in comparison? Set clear timelines and action items for next steps. Clarifying goals (and contingencies) will help to get the ball rolling.
3. Assembling your team
It goes without saying that recruitment is key. So much of gaining the edge in the tech world is about curating the right people. You may have the tech knowledge, but not the sales vision. Perhaps you have an eye for talent, but don’t know the first thing about marketing.
A company will only get so far on hype or perception. Talent and, by extension, output is what sustains a brand. As Tina Fey wrote in her autobiography Bossypants, “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”
4. Actually building the thing
Obviously an important step. So obvious sometimes that it can get lost among the hype. An idea is only as strong as its execution. Having a well-built product that serves user needs is the cornerstone of any successful startup, and business in general.
If you’re not directly involved in building the product, you need to be out there selling it. There’s no better way to gain respect among your team than to lead by example and put in the hard yards.
5. Beta test
The point of beta testing is to assess your product before it officially launches. A dry run, if you will. It involves building a working version of your program, app or product for limited private release. This enables you to source feedback and address functional and interface bugs.
Remember to test among people whose needs and capabilities reflect those of prospective users, particularly ideal end-consumers. This will highlight any blind spots and ensure all necessary functionality is there for users when you launch. The duration of the beta phase varies, but typically you should allow for a couple of months.
6. Do you have a marketing plan?
Users will vote with their thumbs and wallets. Will customers pay for your basic service, or do you need to source other revenue streams (ie. advertising or premium subscriptions)? If you’re charging for usage, are your price points in keeping with market conditions?
If users stay away, it’s up to you to find out where the issue lies. Does your service not work as expected? Is there a gulf in consumer understanding of what it offers? Is brand awareness an issue because you’re not investing enough in marketing?
An idea remains just an idea until people start buying. Then you’ve got yourself a brand. It’s easy for critics (and investors) to dismiss an idea. It’s a lot harder to dismiss paying customers.
All businesses have growing pains, though startups tend to experience more rapid flux than most. Prepare your server capacity accordingly, so that if usage takes off, you’re able to service for demand. With tech services in particular, users don’t have a lot of patience for downtime.
As for the growth of your operations, take it step by step. Think how expanding your workforce or capabilities will impact what you currently do well, and what it might mean for things like office space, team culture etc. The aim should be to maintain your core values and strengths in the face of growing expectations.
8. Sourcing funding
It’s tricky to know where this one fits chronologically on a list. Realistically, funding is an ongoing exercise for startups. Startup growth is a delicate balance of funding, delivery and good faith.
There are a few avenues of funding you can explore. Which one you need is largely governed by which stage of development your business is at.
In the initial stage, you’re probably looking at self-funding or bootstrapping, which hopefully gets you far enough along to start attracting third parties.
Crowdfunding sites (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo) are now a popular medium for throwing your ideas open to the public. If enough people are interested, you only need a small donation from each person to start building serious momentum.
Then there’s your classic venture capital – sounding out investors for contributions to seed, growth and expansion capital. If you don’t know where to start, check out sites like AngelList, or even Linkedin. Look for investors who have contributed to similar companies and ask for an introduction.
From there, you can make a more formal pitch or presentation deck running through your figures and projected ROI. If you’re unsure how to get in front of the right people, this process can be facilitated by companies like Slingshot.
If an investor is interested, they’ll draw up a term sheet proposing a certain level of investment in return for a percentage stake in your company. It’s up to you to negotiate a suitable deal.
9. Don’t stand still
When your product has launched and is gaining traction, the temptation might be to sit back and admire your work. But time (and especially tech) waits for no man. To achieve any kind of longevity, you need to remain agile and evolve along with user needs. Think how monoliths like Facebook, Google and Apple have grown from their original incarnations.
Sound the cliche siren: when it comes to the tech world, if you’re not moving forwards, you’re going backwards.
Whatever your tech or startup objectives, the best outcomes are reserved for those who prepare thoroughly, know their market and are willing to adapt, in order to deliver the best value for their users.