Start your startup in 5 simple steps

In my very first article, I urged aspiring entrepreneurs to stop procrastinating and jump right into their startup journey as soon as possible. But how do you get it started? Although there is no one-size-fits-all method, here's mine.

Transient

1. Open your mind

This is especially important when you don't have a particular idea you would like to work on yet. When we only focus on creating the next cool product before finding real problems that are worth solving, we tend to end up with "solutions" that don't make any meaningful impact to other people.

So open your mind - focus on understanding how people and things interact with one another. By observing real people instead of tinkering with ideas behind a desk, inspiration will come to you in various forms -- be it from the disgruntled stranger at the mall having a problem with a dead phone battery (possible solution: card-sized mobile battery packs) or a stressed-out colleague at work (possible solution: a game to beat up a virtual avatar of your boss).

Dig deeper, and gather clues from every single event that happens around you. Be truly interested in the lives of others -- this is where you might find your next great idea. Even if you do not find any ideas that you're passionate about, you would have built long-lasting and meaningful relationships.

2. Empathise with customers

After finding an idea, you should share it with everyone. Many people choose to keep ideas to themselves, in fear that they would be "stolen". Truth is, most successful businesses are not based on novel ideas, and almost every idea is a variation of some other existing solution. The top reason for startup success is great execution, and we should be focusing on the mastery of this skill instead.

By speaking to more people, you are able to see how different people react to your idea. Who was able to immediately relate with your idea or connect it with a problem he/she recently faced? These will most likely be your primary customers. Start breaking it down further to get a feel for how big an impact you can make, and always empathise!

Remember, it is not what you think the problem is; it's about understanding the user's experience of the problem. Do not let your interactions end with simple questionnaires because the insights you gain can only go as far as the length of your questions - instead, try observing how people react when they face the problem. The bigger the negative reaction, the more likely they are willing to pay the right solution.

3. Fake a solution

Your next step is to build a landing page (try Strikingly, Launchrock, Shopify and/or QuickMVP) and send out e-mailers, Google Ads or Facebook Ads to get more external validation and bring life to your idea. Imagine how your solution would look like and make quick mockups on your landing page. Many of us call this the Wizard of Oz technique -- no one needs to know that you do not have a functional solution, you just need to know who is interested to pay for it.

Remember to collect their contact details so that you can communicate your progress to them. Communication with alpha customers is crucial at this point. If you do a good job, these alpha customers will turn into your first batch of brand evangelists!

4. Try to kill it

Now that people like what you have faked, it's time for you to try to kill it. This sounds counter-intuitive but it allows us to take a step back and understand the business. By exposing all the critical assumptions of your startup, the gaps in your skills and the flaws in your business model, you are better prepared for the future. Here are some questions you should ask yourself.

  • Is the barrier of entry too low?
  • Is the cost of running the business way too high? 
  • Does the revenue model make sense for your or any investor to support the business?
  • Do you have the right expertise to grow the business? 
  • Are there legislative issues you need to deal with when running the business?
  • What are the operational requirements for you to get it up and running?
  • Is the market large enough?

5. Flip the switch

You made it this far. You are convinced that you are able to take this business to another level even after trying to kill it by exposing all the gaps in your skill sets and your understanding of the business. It's time to flip the switch and turn all those alpha customer signups into actual paying customers. Congratulations, you have founded your startup! Of course, you'll need to continue validating the assumptions around your business - we'll talk more about that another time. For now, grab a cold one and celebrate the birth of your startup.