This is an action plan to get a new business started. As long as it stays is in your mind and not in the world, your business will stay a dream. You will never know if it could have been real. So let’s begin.
Starting a new business is huge and the fear of this can be a common block to getting started. I hope that this post provides some practical steps you can perform and smash through.
Breaking it down into stages makes this process less painful. Your only commitment is to get through this stage. As time goes by, the stages get more complex and take longer to complete, but this first stage can be done fast. We’ll give ourselves one day for this stage. Our goal is validate the core idea. We want to check that you are not the only person that that loves this opportunity. Will other people love it too and pay you for it?
While a business is just an idea in your head it is in the riskiest state it will ever be in. Nothing is proven and every detail could be a reason it will fail. In this single day, we will remove some of those risks. Every small proof of value will help you (and others) take bigger and bigger steps towards making the business real.
Things not to do when you have an idea
- Keep it a secret.
- Write a patent application
- Trademark your logo
- Do a three-year financial projection
- Do market sizing
These are all a waste of time until you have tried your idea against a real customer.
You don’t need external capital yet, you don’t need a cofounder. You don’t even need to quit your job. But you must start. Today.
Pick a day
Put a day in your calendar and call it “start business”. Make sure you have no distractions and no excuses. When the day comes, commit to getting everything in this post done. Tell you friends that you are going to do it and that you may be calling on them for feedback. It’s like giving up smoking: A bit of peer pressure will go a long way.
When the day begins, here’s what you’re going to do:
- Understand: Create a one page business plan using a lean canvas
- Experiment: Ship something and put it in front of at least one customer
- Dream: Know where you are heading with a news story from the future
These tasks set the tone for how you will continue.
Startups become successful by learning faster than their competition. We are learning how to make something that customers will value. We do this by:
- Building something
- Measuring what people do with it
- Learning from what we see
We are going to do all of these things in just one day.
Ready? Let the day begin.
Understand: Create a one page business plan using a lean canvas
We use a lean canvas to describe our business plan. Everything is on a single page. Use our online version here or print off this one and scribble. Quickly complete a first draft. Complete every cell. A business that can’t complete every cell has a weakness. Don’t over think. Execute!
- Problem: what is the problem your business will solve? e.g. tourism can be generic and boring
- Customer: who has this problem the most? e.g. students in a gap year
- Unique Value Proposition: how will you describe the business so that it stands out to customers? e.g. unique travel plans just for you so that you can see the world through new eyes and support a developing market
- Solution: clear explanation of product functionality e.g. personality survey > local commissioned to build itinerary > mobile application with daily suggestions custom for you
- Channels: where will you reach the customers? e.g. Facebook campaigns targeting people at university with viral travel personality quiz
- Revenue: what do you want to charge each sale? e.g. $50 per itinerary
- Costs: What will each sale cost you? e.g. $30 to local itinerary builder
- Metrics: what will you measure to show a sustainable business emerging? e.g. Conversion % from quiz to sale
- Unfair Advantage: what can you manufacture today that will give you an unfair advantage against competition? e.g. partnership with freelancer.com to reach the local itinerary builders at scale.
Review. Does it make sense? Does the relationship between what you have written in each cell make sense?
Now go and share the business plan with somebody. Anybody you like. Walk them through your lean canvas in order. Ask them if they understand it and if it feels valuable. Note, this is a fairly weak validation, but saying it out loud helps make sense of it in your own mind.
This is your first version of the product. You have your hypothesis. Feel free to make a few lean canvases until you find something your are happy with but don’t over think it. There is practically nothing that you know (i.e. you need to prove for it to be known) about this business so you just need this good enough to go to the next task.
Now, we start validating.
Experiment: Ship something and put it in front of at least one customer
The temptation is to delay this stage but it is vital that you don’t. Most people do. Don’t be one of them. Take the plunge. Build something that customers can interact with to start validating your assumptions. Right now we are just going to validate the unique value proposition off your lean canvas.
Here’s my design.
The experiment begins with the simple hypothesis that the value proposition is something that customers would agree is valuable. I am going to build an experience online as quickly as I can that will get a potential customer to engage with the value prop. Note that I am not asking them an opinion in a survey. I am trying to motivate them to do something.
I am going to use the ‘Wizard of Oz’ technique and off-the-shelf tools to build something that we can watch customers use and learn from.
Remember. Build > Measure > Learn.
In The Wizard of Oz, we discover that the great and powerful Oz is, in fact, an old man behind a curtain controlling a puppet. A ‘humbug’, as Dorothy would say. But this did not stop the citizens of Oz thinking he was a wizard with magical powers. The illusion was enough.
Inspired by this, I am going to make a puppet version of your product idea. Most business ideas can be tested in this way, they just need lots of manual work behind the scenes to give the illusion of the amazing product you are imagining. The full business could never work this way because it wouldn’t scale. But why build all that stuff if no one wants it?
For this startup, I am going to use three tools so I don’t need to do any coding.
Strikingly for content and main website. Strikingly makes it very simple to make a gorgeous website in minutes that works on mobile and big screen. All I need to do is figure out what I want to say and what the call to action is. I describe the value proposition and ask the user to take the free travel personality quiz.
Typeform for my forms. The link in the page goes to a form I made on Typeform. This site allows me to create lovely web forms that feel like a full-on web application. I use it to create my travel personality quiz. When forms are submitted, Typeform sends an email thanking the user for taking the quiz and inform them that they will get a suggestion of something to try in the next 24 hours. This I will do manually. The manual email that comes then upsells them to a full package for $50.
Facebook for my marketing. I then start the ball rolling by posting onto Facebook that I have just taken a travel personality quiz with a photo of something unique and extra-ordinary of something I am going to try. This links through to the Strikingly site so that others can validate the idea.
I can modify my experiment easily and use the analytics baked into Typeform and Strikingly to see how people are converting through the experience.
Not every business is the same and yours may not be able to use these tools as simply as I did. There are a bunch of other tools you can use for your startup. Here’s some we collected. Mix and match what you need to create the illusion that you want.
Build. Measure. Learn. I have built my experiment and now I leave it in the field to measure what potential customers do. It is possible to get sales on the same day you build something like this. Push yourself to do it. It’s quite a thrill and gets you focussed on building a BUSINESS on the first day.
If you don’t believe your idea can be validated this way, leave me a comment and I will try to help.
The experiment above is inspired by a real business in the Pollenizer incubator right now called GlobeHop. Go and check out what they are doing and help them to validate their business.
Dream: Know where you are heading with a news story from the future
While your experiment is out there, let’s make sure it is worth all the pain and hard work through clarity on the dream. When this business is really kicking, what will it look like? I like to create a story by imagining a news story that the world will read in the New York Times in 3 years from now.
I like to do this because it strikes the balance between running experiments that keep it real and keep the business moving forward in small steps while also heading towards a vision that can create a big impact. We’r enot trying to make a small family business here. We’re trying to build something huge.
If you have a great idea but you are blocked, I hope you will give this a try.
Phil is the CEO of Pollenizer. He works with startups and corporates all over the world to bring Pollenizer’s startup science to their practice. He has co-founded a great many companies. In former lives, Phil has been the CTO of Kazaa and a theatre director.
This article first appeared on Pollenizer.