How To Start a Startup: 10 Steps to Launch

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Startups.ca | Wil Schroter | May 18, 2018

Serial entrepreneur and Startups.co founder and CEO Wil Schroter walks you through 10 steps for starting a startup, and explains why it isn't just about opening your doors or launching a website.

Starting a startup isn’t just about opening your doors or launching your website. Long before that happens, it’s about planning to launch.

There’s a real art form in the planning, and those who have launched a lot of startups — as we have — approach launching a new idea very differently from someone who’s just taking on their first startup.

Simply put — we emphasize spending as little time as possible on chasing ideas that may not work. We’re nuts about efficiency.

We know that time is both our friend and our greatest enemy. And we do everything we can to protect our time so it’s spent in the most efficient way possible.

So what does that actually look like? Here are 10 steps to launching a startup, from someone who’s been there (a few times).

 

1. Identify the Problem — Not the Solution

We all get enamored with brilliant solutions: “Wouldn’t it be great if…” is the mantra of every new startup. But it’s much more important to articulate the problem than the solution right now.

For example, the solution might be that Netflix delivers movies on any device for $15 per month.

But the problem is far more important: Cable is too expensive. Broadcast television severely limits your choices of what you can watch.

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People are now using mobile devices, as opposed to their TVs, to consume content, so multi-form factor output is important. All of these concerns should form the basis of what your solution will ultimately become.

The solution can change over time as you get more familiar with the problem, but spending some serious time articulating the core problem will help guide your efforts around everything from marketing to product development — at every step of the way.

It’s the North Star of a startup.

2. Conduct Basic Research

Before you lift a finger or talk to anyone about your idea, research the hell out of it online. Every minute you invest in researching online saves you 10 minutes of building your startup blindly, only to find out out that customers are flocking to a different solution to the problem you’re solving.

Don’t limit your research to “Is there another company doing the exact same thing?” There may not be.

Instead, focus on “Where can I find examples of how people are solving this problem in a different way?”

People were watching plenty of movies before Netflix. So it’s not like the problem of watching movies wasn’t already being solved in different ways.

Find out what customers spend on the problem now. Read online reviews to find out if they’re happy about it.

You’re building a picture of how the problem you’re solving is currently being solved — and where the holes are — so you can start to formulate the best possible product.

3. Interview Experts

Nine times out of ten, the answer you’re seeking already exists in someone’s head. Often that head belongs to someone who’s worked in some version of your industry before.

If you’re Netflix founder Reed Hastings, you’d be interviewing people who worked at the highest levels of Blockbuster, HBO, Time Warner Cable, or major studios.

You want to find out why the existing solutions don’t seem to be working as they should. You want to hear their war stories and learn from them, instead of having to learn the hard way yourself.

If you’re nervous about approaching an expert — who may be someone you’ve looked up to for years — I have a pro tip: You’d be shocked at how willing people are to help.

Nothing gets an industry expert talking like asking questions about the world they’ve lived in for so long. Reach out to strangers and ask hard questions. Go deep on interviews.

Think of every question you get answered from an expert as a shortcut to an entire lifetime of experience you don’t have to gain from scratch.

4. Develop a Product Concept

Long before you actually start working on the actual product, you need a product concept.

This is the story you would tell a prospective customer about what the product will be some day. You need to give it as much detail as possible, without actually having the product.

Reed at Netflix would say “Imagine you could open your Web browser and instantly access thousands of movies and TV shows whenever you wanted them, on any device.”

See:

He’d go on to explain how you could watch entire seasons of shows, jump from one device to the other while watching the same show, and all the other wonderful features that Netflix boasts.

Your product concept is critical. It’s what you’ll share and refine a million times before you start spending actual cycles building the real thing.

Functionally, it can be anything from a paragraph text description to concept sketches to a PowerPoint presentation.

What’s important is that it paints a picture that potential customers can react to.

5. Get Beta Users

Beta users are your very first customers. In some cases, they’re customers before you have “real” customers.

They’re the people who are willing to try your stuff out when anyone else wouldn’t even think about it. They are your early adopters.

You don’t have to wait until you have a product to get beta users. You can start by identifying those who would be a likely customer (not just your roommate who happens to be sitting next to you on the couch).

You can begin with your product concept and eventually transition to your actual product later on.

What’s important now is that you identify these users and keep learning from them as you refine the product.

It doesn’t have to be a massive group — it could be  five to 10 people — but you have to keep presenting your idea to them until it clicks.


 


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