The hard truth of startups and new products is that at least 72% of all new products fail, causing damage to individuals’ savings, company’s cash flows and P&L, and affecting the morale of the team involved. The Silicon Valley Venture Capital Greylock Partners and the Venture Capital Database CB Insights analysed startups post-mortem earlier in 2017 and confirmed that user and customer demand is a north star for the success of a new business idea or a new product.
According to 100firsthits.com, the TOP1 startup mistake is “Building something nobody wants“.
This all look like commons sense in fact. If there is no market need, whatever awesome product we will manage to put together and promote, we won’t sell it.
So the question is: how do we find out whether there is customer demand for a business idea, and how does the product need to be to satisfy that demand BEFORE investing big money?
Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” wrote something interesting about this: “startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”
So there is a recipe for success.
This is great because entrepreneurship has a magic power, it triggers positive energies and it leaves people with an irresistible willingness to start doing things.
However, all these positive energies can be very easily transformed into negative when they are not channelled in the correct direction.
And with negative I mean: having quit a day job, having spent most of our savings, having re-mortaged the house and ultimately having trouble explaining to our life partner, family and friends why we have done all of that and we haven’t been able to succeed. That’s awful.
Let’s follow the process then. Instead of jumping into build mode and start developing and hiring people immediately, these are the questions that we need to answer in order to build and launch a product customers need and for which there is market demand:
- Which problem are we going to solve?
- Who has the pain in our market?
- Who are the early adopters?
- What is the value proposition able to satisfy their needs?
- How much are they willing to pay for it?
- What is the minimum set of features required for launch?
The way to answer most of these questions is to engage with customers from the very early stage of the new product development, get to know them profoundly, create a value proposition based on the insights captured that relies on the company’s key strengths to create a competitive advantage customers care about, and test and iterate that proposition on the market until we reach product-market fit.
Most of this can be done before investing any substantial resource into the business, and that’s really the best thing about Lean methodology.
The most difficult thing is to resist from the instinct to jump into “build mode”, and invest some time to de-risk an idea before investing heavily in it.
Anyone is in love with their idea, and the last thing we want to know is that it’s not a good one. But the sooner we realise an idea is flawed (i.e. there is no market need for it) the better it is.
In terms of practical steps, this is the usual process I apply to validate a new business or a new product idea and achieve product-market fit:
- compile a lean canvas to have clarity of a business idea (see here a few tips on how to compile it)
- identify the riskiest assumptions for the business idea. Hint: usually are the ones around target segment, problems and market size
- conduct a round of qualitative interviews with target customers, to understand if they have the pain, how big is it, and what do they currently do to solve it (see here a few tips on how to recruit them, how to conduct interviews and which questions to ask them)
- run a collaborative workshop with the entire team to refine the value proposition based on customer insights collected so far. This is how disruptive ideas are generated!
- prepare some cheap and quick form of prototype (see here a seven options, ordered with the least expensive at the top)
- conduct another round of qualitative interviews with target customers, to understand if the solution prepared solves the problem and if they are willing to pay for it. At this stage is mandatory to attempt to get a commitment from them
- iterate the solution, and conduct new interviews in case they don’t commit
- when I get enough commitment, I define a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and start proper development
This approach allows the companies I work for to delay cash investment and de-risk an idea until the point when we have enough certainty that we are going to develop and launch something customers want. Before that point, it’s all going to be a learning process.