Ever had that feeling of not knowing where to start? For writers, it’s called writer’s block. Painters call it blank-canvas syndrome.
Entrepreneurs refer to this phenomenon as analysis paralysis, an affliction all founders experience at one point or another. It’s like having a stroke of genius for the next big idea, but not knowing where to start.
Whether yours is a big marketing idea with the potential to double your holiday sales, the way Zappos did with its recent price-matching experiment, or the next billion dollar business, your idea -- and everyone else's -- are only as good as the execution behind them.
As a serial entrepreneur myself, I have more than 10 years' experience under my belt; and I’ve developed a framework to test all of those crazy MVP (minimum viable product) ideas out there. My framework is not only tangible, but simple to execute. And -- modesty aside -- it’s the biggest predictor of online success I’ve ever seen, one that will help you push beyond that “what now?” moment, so you can test and evaluate your product against the real market.
This is important because, too often, entrepreneurs forego the validation stage and go straight into pouring loads of money into their ideas. In an MVP’s case, that can be a costly mistake.
The need for speed
Speed is everything when testing an MVP. Many founders resist launching until a product is “perfect,” but I’ve got news for you -- it will never be perfect, and holding out for that status could cost your product going forward.
Fifty percent of businesses fail in their first year due to misunderstanding their market, while 95 percent close up within five for the same reason. But strong, early MVP assessments allow you to determine whether you’re onto something (or not) in a low-risk environment.
When it comes to launching an MVP, progress is better than perfection. The only goal is to put together a scaled-down version of your product or service and see whether people are willing to buy in.
All that's required is a little startup capital and some imagination. Here’s how to go about it:
1. Create a fake brand.
Zappos started out as Shoesite.com. A short time later, CEO Tony Hsieh proposed the company go with its current, more memorable moniker to leave itself open to future expansion.
So, consider your own brand name. In the testing phase, give your MVP a fake name that’s descriptive enough to resonate with customers. Don’t get too hung up on it, though. All you’re trying to do is discern whether you can generate interest.
Once you select a brand name, buy the matching or surrounding domain for cheap and attach a logo. If or when your MVP clicks, you’ll build the true move-forward brand out of this process.
2. Set up shop.
Now that you have a brand name, a URL and a logo, it’s time to create your storefront or website. These days, amazing tools exist to help even a novice leverage existing templates and technologies to create a platform in less than 24 hours.
If you’re starting an ecommerce company, set up a Shopify store. It’s a robust platform that comes equipped with apps, plug-ins and template themes for your user interface that will get you on your feet quick.
If you’re a service business, get a branded website through SquareSpace. The website will come with its own templates and a simple back-end editor that you can figure out quickly. Plug in your domain URL and logo into your new site and set up your brand’s name, logo and everything else on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Ask your friends and family to follow or like your social media pages, to seed them with a few people. When you start driving traffic to the site to test interest, it helps to have some social media presence since it increases social proof and reduces risk among potential customers.
3. Stock the shelves.
People don’t buy products they can’t see or services they don’t know about, so you’ll have to get creative because you most likely don’t have a product yet. Images are the No. 1 factor in conversions, so buy some quality stock photos to put on your site and social media pages.
Write creative product or service descriptions for the site that helps a potential customer see all the appeal of your service, including technical specs. It’s okay to make up some details; you just want to gauge people’s response to your potential product.
When he started Zappos, co-founder Nick Swinmurn posted photos of local retailers’ shoes online, then bought them from the physical stores as customers placed orders. Swinmurn used the MVP spirit to prove his concept -- without any heavy financial investment.
4. Set up analytics.
Install Google Analytics before your site goes live by simply dropping some code into Shopify and SquareSpace. You’ll be able to see how people found your site, how long they stayed and other behavioral details, like bounce rate.
This helps for an obvious reason: If you can’t track user behavior during the MVP period, how will you measure success or failure?
5. Drive traffic to the homepage.
Because you can create a placement in the morning and see movement by lunchtime, Facebook ads should be your traffic source during the MVP phase. You’ll need to set up a Facebook brand page and an advertising account (which will house your Google Analytics tracking code pixel), but this entire process shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours.
Set up an AdEspresso.com account to simplify the entire Facebook media-buying process. Connect AdEspresso to your Facebook page and budget $500 to $1,000 for ads to start and target your passionate interest group -- then watch the account closely each day.
Before you launch the ads, decide how you will measure success or failure of your MVP in a quantitative way. Will the number of visitors you get, email addresses you receive or “sales” earned determine success? When something clicks, there will be no gray area.
6. Decide the verdict.
At this point, you will know whether your idea has a pulse or not. Is there enough interest to move forward? Are you convincing yourself that it has enough when it really doesn’t? Remember to be brutal and unemotional about the results.
If you didn’t get the results you wanted, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Go back to your analytics and see where customers fell off, fix those issues and test some more ads. Most of the time, you’re only a few small tweaks away from success.
A lackluster response from potential customers doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it just means you’ve succeeded at understanding what the market doesn’t want. Take that data, go back to the lab, rinse and repeat the MVP process until you hit your spot.