I started working on a startup not knowing or ever heard about the word called startup in my life. That was year 2012 when I started working for Afripals Network, a mobile social networking platform started by some students of Michael Okpara University Umudike.
Unlike most of my mates, I entered the Startup world quite early with my first stints at Afripals. I’ll later work with the guys at Gravantech some months later before I finally had the effrontery to dare build my own startup. So far, it’s been a wonderful adventure.
During Startup Weekend Abia 2016, I saw myself surrounded by my fellow youths who are startup founders, developers, designers and enthusiasts; all with different motivation and mindset behind their work. During that weekend, I was able to network with a good number of them and of course learn strong business lessons I have never experienced in my life before.
I’ve always had this dream about starting my own startup business and roll like the big guys whose success stories I always read online everyday. But then, I was curious to understand my own intentions behind my dreams by the time I failed severally. And I sat down to ask myself these questions:
1. What problem am I solving?
Truthfully, I had difficulty stating clearly the problem my startups were solving. And because I neglected this important aspect that will decide what my product/service should look like, I ended up not validating it and of course it meant that I probably don’t have a successful idea.
2. How have others attempted to solve this problem before, and why did I think their solutions succeeded or failed?
You see, there’s a lot to learn from those who have gone before you. I’ve always known that. After all, the said ‘experience is the best teacher’. But then, anybody interested in building a successful startup should learn to learn from others who had similar solutions and what led to their success or failure.
3. What are the benefits of my product or idea can I list specifically?
One thing is obvious, the more someone can think of what benefits his startups can offer, the more likely it is that you’re meeting a real need and you can be successful in it.
4. Who are my potential competitors?
This is one sin most of us commit. Ignoring our potential competitors. It denied me success severally. We tend to ignore the people in the same industry before us and rank ourselves as ‘No.1 in this’, ‘Largest whatever in this’, ‘Biggest in this’, ‘Most whatever in this’. Making such proud statement is unnecessary without proof. You can’t be starting out and you attribute yourself with such claims. You’ll be foolishly ignoring your competitors. However, knowing what you’ll face when you launch is very important. You should know if you’re going into an overcrowded marketplace or one where consumers have a strong loyalty for the dominant brand which will make it difficult for you to break into.
5. What key features does my product or service have that others will have a hard time copying?
This one thing is what I usually skip whenever I go through my business model canvas. I knew there’s nothing different from what I was doing with what’s already existing and I am ashamed to repeat what others are doing. But I can’t help it. Therefore, before you go into business, you need to be very clear about what sets you apart from competitors and how to go about it.
6. Is there any mentor or industry advisor that I can call on?
Look, forget whatever you’ve ever heard, self made is not applicable in building a startup. Well, you can do it alone if you have to, but when you start a new startup, having the advice of others in a similar business space can prevent unnecessary expenses or mistakes. Most times, there are decisions that can lead to better outcome that you can get only from an experienced mentor.
7. Can I name somebody my product can benefit?
In my days as a startupper, I failed woefully at this. There’s a cue between your users and customers. This is the beginning of market research to discover who you actually know that would use your idea. Relying on general demographic is not enough, the best is to take your time to hone in your target buyer personas.
8. Have I reached out to potential customers for feedback?
As a tech guy, I am usually interested in how my product looks like and the uniqueness of how it works (UI/UX), forgetting the fact that I am not building my startup for myself but for people who really need a problem to be solved for them. No matter how good your idea is validated, getting feedback before investing further money can help you avoid creating a product or service that nobody really wants.
9. What would it take me to build a minimum viable product to test the market?
I have never believed in this concept called building an MVP until I quit the startup scene. I think I’m not alone in this. If there’s any death trap that awaits any startup founder, it’s thinking that they have to launch a finished concept before making market entry. From my own personal experiences, I can tell you it’s a huge mistake. Consider starting small small, gauging interest and feedbacks from your users and scale as you go.
10. How comfortable I am with failing or making mistakes?
The worst thing you’ll ever do to yourself is to expect that nothing will ever go around while building your startup. There will be many rough times. You will see a lot of stuff failing. Things will not work out the way you planned. You might face situations which you won’t even know what to do or say. If you must survive, you must learn how to grow past mistakes.
11. Is my intention only to make money?
There’s nothing wrong with everyone having a billion dollar dream. The problem arises when money starts driving your dreams. There are lots of negativity it drives in you as my own case was when I was building Yangi. I failed woefully, I failed easily, I failed irrecoverably. It can happen to anyone who choose to walk on the same path with me. About what to do…focus on delivering your solution to your users and monetizing it will come easily. It may take you much longer than you think to make a profit. But, the passion to create amazing stuff should never be something you’ll subsidize.
Dear entrepreneur, carefully examine these questions and think through them. It may take some time to come up with answers for them, but if you think harder and get them right, you’ll be equipped better about how viable your idea is. And If it passes these tests, shoot for it! If not, keep reworking your idea. Maybe at the of the day, your next idea may be the one that changes the world.