5 Ways to Stop Skipping the Hard Questions of Entrepreneurship
Being passionate is human nature, particularly when you’re running your own business. But when that excitement takes the reins -- something that routinely happens, for instance, when billionaire Elon Musk hops on Twitter -- problems can result. In the past two months alone, Musk’s musings have led to his removal as chairman of Tesla Inc. and a lawsuit for slander.
When you first have the inkling of a great idea, you’ve likely done little in the way of research. Is anybody else working to solve this same problem? Who might find this idea appealing, and why? Do you have the right skills to bring this idea to fruition?
Depending on your goals, the company implementing that idea could be up and running within two months, or take as long as a year. After considering factors like that one, you'll have a solid idea of whether yours is a good project or simply a nice dream.
Many first-time entrepreneurs fail to “trust facts before feelings.” But that can be a mistake: Entrepreneurs are typically driven self-starters who want to trust that they can handle whatever comes their way. Well, that isn’t always the case.
When feelings overcome facts.
In my early days, I incubated a startup enterprise called Mobliso. We created it to streamline the self-checkout process for mobile commerce. The product meant consumers would no longer have to repeatedly fill out the same checkout information, even if they delayed their purchases only by minutes.
The concept had traction and interest, but we were feature-creeping. We continually added new features without testing them -- we had only a limited budget and were over-excited about the runway we already had to get our platform to market. So we didn't take the necessary precautions.
As a result, our platform turned out to be a convoluted mess. Our business model wasn't focused on solving our clients' most significant pain point. So we had to branch off from Mobliso.
To prevent your strong feelings from leading your vision astray, start with these five steps:
1. Keep your passion in check.
Embrace your excitement, then temper your expectations before you go off the rails. Start with what I call a "passion check." You might feel strongly about something right now, but stop to ask yourself whether you’ll feel the same way tomorrow.
You might feel optimistic about that first question, but the second one should truly be telling. "Will I be as passionate about this idea five years from tomorrow?" If that question causes you any hesitation, your concept may not be the right fit.
Without an enduring passion, you're not going to dig deeper, wake up earlier, stay up later and outpace someone else with a similar idea. In a study that involved Yale and Stanford, among other institutions, researchers found that study subjects quickly lost interest in a subject when they were forced to learn more -- even when they had initially been intrigued.
The message: If you don't have a wealth of passion, you don't have a business.
2. Conduct a competitive analysis.
Once you’ve checked your own enthusiasm, it’s time to see what the marketplace is all about. Search for your idea on Google to see who's already doing something similar; browse various app stores to do the same.
Don’t be afraid of overdoing it with research -- there’s no such thing. When Mo Bhende and Jeff Spector, co-founders of the hiring startup Karat, conducted research on the interview process software engineers go through, they took a six-month trip around the United States. They also participated in numerous interviews to find opportunities for their company.
You might not have the ability to conduct an analysis that exhaustive, but you should at least look around to see who else is operating in this space.
3. Create a rough prototype.
If your research determines that the competition is not satisfying market needs or that your idea is not differentiated enough, it’s time to build a rapid prototype. Quickly sketch out your idea and then create something that you can test; it doesn’t have to be overly complex. Girlboss, for example, built a rapid prototype of its professional social networking site by using a Facebook group.
To craft your own rapid prototype, identify your target market. Who will ideally buy your product or service? Why will these people want it? Who are they, and why would they talk to you? Will your product make the businesses they run more productive? The answers to these questions should help your prototype take form.
4. Solve consumer pain points.
After you’ve conducted an analysis and created a mock-up prototype, reach out to folks in your network via surveys and cold calls. This will enable you to fully test your user experience. Then, evaluate feedback you’re getting. Do these people like it? Alternatively, do they have issues with your design or the principles of the product?
As a business leader, you must do everything you can to ensure you’re solving problems for your customers, or you won’t succeed. In fact, according to CB Insights' famous post-mortems, 42 percent of failed startups looked at didn't work out because they didn't help others by solving a market need.
5. Go back to the drawing board.
Nail down those pain points, and then go back to the drawing board. Do this about two or three times to ensure you feel comfortable enough to move forward to a fully featured prototype.
Once you have that prototype, develop a software stack to take to market. Even large companies such as Nike are investing in ways to get to market faster. Spend as little money and time as possible, and embrace lean UX principles to test your hypothesis in the marketplace.
Build something simple that people can download and use right away. At this point, don’t worry about your pricing; focus on onboarding users and getting feedback in the form of data. That way, you can refine your product further before investing the time and energy to scale it.
When it comes to researching and preparing your business, there are no shortcuts. Any attempts to avoid the hard work of building a company can lead you down the same path I took: adding a seemingly endless array of features until you determine that any further features will no longer be useful to your customer base.
Certainly, it’s great to be excited about your business idea -- you should be. But don’t get so excited that you forget why you’re working on the product in the first place: to solve problems for your target audience.