Thought exercise for founders to evaluate their start-up

A start-up might begin with a big idea in the founder’s mind but it’s the journey of this idea that shapes the start-up. It’s important for founders to evaluate their start-ups at every stage of this journey, to know that they are on the right track.

Your big idea…it’s definitely worth pursuing, consistently and persistently for years and years. If you care. If it’s generous and helpful and worth the journey. Says Seth Godin about ideas in his famous blog.

What makes it “worth the journey”? How do the founders know that they are directing their passion and energy in the correct direction? That their hard work is, in the real world (not just in their minds), taking them closer to their goal? 

Could there be a “thought exercise” for founders to evaluate their start-up? I will use an example of a start-up with an idea to build an online fitness platform for its customers, to better demonstrate this exercise.

1. MVP – Minimum Viable Product

  • An MVP or the Minimum Viable Product is the version of your product with just enough features to attract your early adopter customers. 
  • The feedback from these customers can then be used to iterate and improve your product. 
  • Eric Ries, who introduced the concept of MVP calls it a means to collect maximum validated learning with the least efforts.
  • Having an MVP prevents the start-up from wasting efforts in developing an unviable product or working on an unviable idea.
  • Having an MVP lets you test not just your product but also your business model.
  • The necessary changes can be made quickly and early on in the product development cycle.
    In the case of the online fitness platform, it was observed that there was a lack of trainers since they were more interested in creating their own brands. Without enough trainers onboarding, the platform wouldn’t grow. How could they then proceed?
  • Do you know what your Minimum Viable Product is?

Product progress

  • Has your product development seen any progress, and more importantly, is the progress measurable? 
  • How are you measuring and keeping track of the progress? 
  • Is your product development based on any assumptions? Have you identified these assumptions? 
  • Are you talking to your potential/early adopter customers to test your assumptions as you proceed with the product?

Past learnings

  • Have you done this in the past? If yes, do you have a clear understanding of your learnings from the previous experience?
  • Have you analysed what worked and what didn’t?
  • How will you use these learnings in your current start-up?

Your skillset

  • What is the skillset that you bring with you? Are you a technical whiz or great at marketing? 
  • Once you have a clear understanding of your skillset, you also know your shortcomings.
  • Based on this, you can look for specific complementary skills as you find a partner or build the team for your start-up.

Competitor study

However big an idea is, chances are somebody has already done something about it. 

  • Do you know what that something is? 
  • Are they your competitors? 
  • Do you know who your competitors are? 
  • What’s their USP? 
  • How do you differentiate your brand from theirs? 
  • What is the problem that your competitors haven’t yet solved that you are solving?

Fire fighting

  • An entrepreneur’s journey is akin to a firefighter’s. Entrepreneurs are continually putting out fires. 
  • Are you putting out the same kind of fires? 
  • It’s okay be fire fighting, as long as they are different fires that you are putting out.

In the example of the online fitness platform, if they continued with the same approach despite learning that trainers were in short supply, they would constantly be putting out the “trainer shortage” fire.

Jargon attachment and attention to detail

  • Are you over complicating a solution to the identified problem just to stick to the jargon that you have in mind?
  • Are you paying attention to the details? Have you incorporated all the details in implementing your solution?
  • Is adding all these details making the product financially unviable, or way more expensive than anticipated?
  • In this case, have you thought of a solution? How will you fight this fire?

The online fitness platform, in the above example, decided to use machine learning to provide training and nutrition solution. Implementing this would need someone highly skilled with writing algorithms as well as have awareness of fitness concepts like different types of diets and fitness regimens. With the addition of every physiological complication, it would become a harder computer science problem. Did this still make the platform financially viable?

Being objective

Last but most certainly, not the least.

  • Are you able to be objective about your idea? Are you able to detach yourself from it?
  • Are you willing to see what the demonstrated results tell you? 
  • Are you willing to walk away from the idea or modify it completely, if the test results indicate that you should?

Founders should take up this thought exercise to evaluate their start-up from stage to stage. It will pave the way for the start-up to move forward successfully.

It will help founders make it all “worth the journey”.

#Startup #FounderLessons #StartupEvaluation #ThoughtExercise