So you want to start a new business. That’s great! It’s one of the most thrilling and challenging opportunities you may ever do. With all the excitement surrounding this new venture, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment - anyone would. However, going in all guns blazing from the get-go may actually cause your business more harm than good.
Let us explain…
It’s a well-known fact that almost 50% of start-ups fail during their first 3 years. In fact, some sources state this to be as high as 90%. Now, we’re not saying this to put you off. We're saying this so you can learn. Each one of these failures provides a valuable bed of knowledge to ensure that you don't make the same mistake as others.
Recent research found that nearly half of all start-up failures can be attributed to a lack of validation. Too often we see new founders focusing their efforts on what they think the market wants, rather than what it actually needs. But how can you verify what your consumers want?
There are countless activities that you can perform to help you validate your idea and make sure it’s watertight. So many in fact, that if you tried to do them all you’d never complete them or you’d have so many contradicting options you wouldn’t be able to make a decision. We know it’s a tough ask to do everything but we also know validating an idea is essential, so what’s a founder to do?
We’d advocate working smarter. It’s not a case of using the age-old cliché ‘work smarter not harder’ it’s a genuine piece of advice that we follow here at Founder + Lightning. You want to focus on the activities that provide opportunities for learning and insight. The great thing about the techniques we’re about to share is that they save you both time and money - so it’s a win-win situation.
As simple as it sounds, our first tip is to truly immerse yourself in the market. You might have a great idea but you probably don’t know everything. Speaking with close friends and a quick Google search isn’t going to cut it, and if that’s your number one tactic then you’ll need to broaden your horizons. Here are just some of the great resources we use to help us on a daily basis:
- TechCrunch is a great place to stay up to date with tech and startups
- CrunchBase tells you what you need to know about investment in startups
- Meetup and Eventbrite to find out what events are going on and where
- Autopsy is a nice resource for learning from previous startups
- UKTN focuses closer to home and covers everything in the UK tech sector
- Medium is fantastic for first-hand articles written with a little more honesty
Big names that I’m sure you will have heard of but they all offer big returns in a fast and efficient way.
There is an abundance of resources on the internet and lots that will be industry-specific but don’t forget to actually speak to people. We find that a hybrid of on and offline is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse. Remember, what you see is only the tip of the iceberg.
Our second tip focuses on trying to extract the right things from your target market. We’re sure you’ve had quite a few people provide their opinion on your idea but we doubt you’ve conducted proper user research. You want to truly understand the needs and wants of your market to make sure that the problem you’re solving isn’t only experienced by you. It’s time to go beyond your friends and close network to find those who will really challenge your idea. Below are some of the techniques we use when conducting user research:
- Surveys. Remember to avoid leading questions and spend a good amount of time thinking about what you want to get out of this survey. We’d recommend having another pair of eyes review to remove any bias. Typeform is our preferred tool to create stylish surveys.
- Face to face interviews. As above, remember to spend time when preparing your questions. Make sure those whom you are interviewing match your target market as well. The advantage of doing these in person is that you can observe all types of reactions which paint the bigger picture, e.g. puzzled or frowny faces. Notion is a great way to capture and collate responses through its all-in-one workspace.
- Landing pages. Using the insights from surveys and interviews, you should now be able to craft a genuine value proposition in the form of a simple website. On your landing page, you should state your purpose as well as the benefits of your solution. Always make it as easy as possible to capture interest as these individuals will provide you with further insights. While we build our own landing pages, MailChimp does a great job of providing you with everything you need for a basic start.
After performing your user research, don’t be afraid to pivot your idea if required. Time and time again we see founders ignore the results as they try to hang on to their original concept. Your solution needs to be crafted around those who are using it so don’t be afraid to change your idea should that be necessary.
Our final tip is to never stop testing. While this might seem like we’re asking you to increase your workload, we’re not. It’s far easier to conduct testing and iterations before you've built a product than it is afterwards. From the moment you’ve conceptualised your idea, you should take it straight to users to continue your learning.
A set of digital sketches of the product, also known as low fidelity wireframes, is enough to start this process. We’re big fans of Balsamiq and Figma, as it doesn’t take long to get to grips with and it more than caters for your wireframing needs. Once you’ve created your wireframes start with tasking your users with scenarios and observe their actions. If they get stuck don’t tell them what to do, instead, ask them what are they trying to do. This is the perfect time to get back inside the mind of your users. However, if they’re not getting your value proposition at this stage it might be time to rethink your idea.
Learn from your testing sessions and make changes to your wireframes as required. After a few iterations, you can think about using a design tool like Sketch to bring your idea to life. From here you can conduct further testing to observe how users interact now your brand has been applied. Getting someone to commit to your product by the way of payment is the ultimate validation at this point.
As you can see from everything above, we’re not asking you to hunker away for months on end. We are advocating that you become more social than ever while making sure that there is a purpose in your actions. We promise the validation process is a faster way of working. Even if it isn’t good news, at least you will find out now rather than further down the line once you’ve poured time, sweat and money into your idea.
So go on, get out there and start validating. You’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain!