While many wish they can make their ideas happen, why is it that only a few actually succeed at doing so? What’s the big secret? And how do you navigate the different and often opposing views, advice, and recommendations from startup gurus and experts?!
I'm always asked questions on how to turn ideas into successful startups and businesses. Being part of the team at Launch Academy, one of the top startup hubs and incubators in Western Canada, I had so much practice in getting the process explained in a simple, streamlined, and easy to apply structure.
Let me be clear, there is nothing simple, streamlined, or easy about making ideas happen, launching, funding, or growing startups. But through our experience working with over 1000 entrepreneurs and over 600 startups that collectively raised over $150 million we've seen the patterns, and experimented, developed, honed and mastered this process that our alumni currently use to launch, fund and grow successful startups.
You need three things to turn your idea into a startup; Passion, Action, & Results
For everything you do, you need drive and passion. But with turning an idea into a startup and then building and growing a successful business, you need a mother-load of passion!
When launching a startup, you are almost always going to be facing many difficulties and challenges ranging from:
Simple that you kind of know how to deal with or can figure out,
Difficult that takes lot’s of time and energy
Insurmountable challenges that are just soul crushing.
You may not see this right now, and most likely don’t believe it, which is natural. That entrepreneurial naiveté is crucial to get you started, cause if entrepreneurs knew what’s coming their way, no one in their right mind will launch a startup :)
Now with a heavy mind and the world on your shoulder (that’s how it feels when you are working on your startup), the only thing that will get you out of bed in the morning, get you from one day to the next, keep you moving forward, and make you believe that you can make it even with everything around you telling you “just give up already, and get back to how things were”, is lots and lots and lots of passion.
So how do you uncover, test, and deepen your passion?
1. Write 100 specific reasons why you will launch this startup even if you are more likely to fail, make no money, and end up working 3 years only for Google, Facebook, or Amazon to launch a similar product and crush your startup?
Hint: if you already started to think 100 is too much, and you haven’t already jumped on this and started writing, you are not passionate enough, just saying. Get writing already.
2. Pitch your idea to a 100 people in your startup ecosystem (investors, entrepreneurs, senior employees) and get them to help you, invest in you, join you, introduce you to others, guide you, mentor and/or advise you - no friends or family.
Hint: Pitch your idea only. DO NOT go hide in your bedroom for a few months and develop a prototype or something worth presenting and then present, NO. Start pitching.
3. Connect with and follow the top 100 experts, influencers, entrepreneurs, and investors in the field of your startup. Then spend at least ten days reading everything they have put out there, or shared.
Hint: This will put you in touch with the current reality of this field, provide you with strategic insight and direction, and get you connected with those who shape the scene, so you are part of the conversation. Join the scene.
Where is your passion taking you?
Unless you have a clear vision of where you’re going, your passion will quickly fade away, and you will not be able to make decisions when faced with crossroads, which is most of the time when leading a business.
Use this exercise to clarify your vision for your idea and startup.
If you had all the money and time in the world, what would your startup/business look like in 20 years? Answer the following in vivid specific detail:
What do your offices look like?
Who are your co-founders?
Who are your investors?
Who are your customers?
What is the media writing?
What is the world impact you created?
What is the legacy you are building?
How does all this make you feel?
Now that you’ve achieved all this, why you wake up and go to work?
It’s time to get shit done.
These are the nine key building blocks for launching, funding and growing a successful startup arranged in sequential steps to get you started right away and let you know what you need to do next. Missing any of those steps will significantly increase the likelihood that your startup will stumble and die - Don’t mean to be dramatic, but that’s the reality entrepreneurs must deal with if they ignore the fundamentals ;)
Step 1: Create Your Startup Strategic Action Plan Using The Lean Canvas
Strategic thinking makes all the difference between the few successful entrepreneurs and everyone else.
Create your Lean Canvases on Lean Stack
Rank your Lean Canvases
Create the Lean Canvas of 3 possible of disruptors of your business
Step 2: Know Who's Your Target Customer
The customer is everything. Not the most important thing, not the centre of everything, the customer is EVERYTHING and there is no business without the customer.
Define your customers and users
Define and identify your early adopters
Create predictive personas
Create your user journey
Walk in your customer's shoes, and live a day in their life
Step 3: Discover The Key Problems Your Target Customer Want Solved
Most entrepreneurs start off trying to build a product or service, successful entrepreneurs make the shift to becoming obsessed with their customers' problems and finding better ways of solving those problems.
Identify the problems your customers want solved
Create your problem interview script
Interview 50 customers
Update your problem statement
Step 4: Create, Communicate, and Test Your Value Proposition
A well-crafted value proposition is the core communication building block for you to use when communicating what you are working on internally to yourself and your team, and externally to your customers, investors and the media.
Craft your value proposition for each customer segment
Brainstorm 10 possible ways to communicate your value proposition to your customer segment
Step 5: Perfect Your Pitch and Present With Confidence
Pitching is a core skill that every entrepreneur must master. You will need it to raise funds, find co-founders, build your team, and to tell the world what you are working on.
Prepare Your Pitches - It’s never one pitch, be ready to pitch in many different formats (with slides and without), and within different time limitations (7, 30, 90sec, and 3, 5,15, 20min)
Attend Pitch Events
Pitch at Pitch Events
Practice Your Pitch
Update Online Presence (LinkedIn & Angel List)
Step 6: Find Investors and Raise Capital
Whether you are aiming to raise money or not, investors are a key element of the tech startup echo system that you would be wise to include in your conversations and the process of launching, funding, and growing your startup.
Attend pitching events
Look for top local investors who invested in startups that play in the same domain (use CrunchBase, AngelList, local papers, and local tech blogs)
Look for top national and international investors who invested in startups that play in the same domain (use CrunchBase, AngelList, national and international papers and tech blogs)
Reach out for a coffee if local
Avoid pitching, long messages or long emails at early stages. Build a relationship by engaging in a conversation.
Find out what they look for in a startup
When ready ask them to have a look at what you are working on
Step 7: Design and Build Your MVP - Minimal Viable Product
An MVP is not a partial product, not a smaller version of your product, not a beta or alpha, not a step toward the bigger vision of your product, and not a cheap version of your product because you can’t afford to build the full product. While it can be any of those, at its core an MVP is an experiment to validate or invalidate your assumptions and learnings about your customers, the problems they want solved, why they want it solved, how they want it solved, where do they go to find solutions, and whether or not they’re willing to pay for a solution.
Craft your testable hypothesis
Create a test plan for your experiment
Explore 3-5 MVP ideas
Build your MVP
Get people to use it
Examine the results
Compare the results to what you thought they would be
Step 8: Hack Your Growth and Gain Traction
A business can either grow or die, there is no third alternative. Growth is the purpose of every healthy, successful and thriving business.
At the early stages of your startup, you also need to get customers to your MVP in order to test your hypotheses.
That is why understanding how to get traction, reach customers, grow your business, and achieve your goals with great speed, before your runway (time and resources) runs out, is invaluable.
Explore all the nineteen traction channels.
Promote your best traction channel ideas to your middle ring (3-6).
Construct and run multiple experiments at the same time.
Identify the most promising channel that’s actually moving the needle.
Step 9: Measure Your Progress and Track Your Metrics
Setting goals and measuring your progress is what beings all the past building blocks together. For a startup, it’s even more important to focus on the key metrics to measure and user to move forward and get the right things done, instead of just doing things right.
Define your one metric that matters
Choose the 3 pirate metrics that you will measure
Setup the tools that will help you measure these metrics
Passion and action are meaningless if there is no examination of the results of your work.
Many entrepreneurs have the passion, do the work, but miss this crucial element of the success trilogy, and unfortunately, take longer time, make bigger unnecessary mistakes, or fail.
There 3 simple steps to make sure you are truly results oriented:
1. State clearly the results you are after (in writing)
2. Document the results you got after taking action (in writing)
3. Identify the gap between the results you’re after and what you got, then make your decisions on what to do next. These decisions may include but not limited to:
Changing the results you are after, because they are no longer relevant, or they were the wrong results to go after. (Make sure this is based on the learning and information you got, not just making it easy for yourself)
Changing the strategy and plan of action
Changing what you measure
Run more tests and experiments to get more detailed results or confirmation
We have used this framework to help over 1000 entrepreneurs, over 500 startups that collectively raised over $100 million.
I hope you use this framework to successfully launch, fund and grow your startup from an idea to an incredible business that adds value to millions of customers.
Do you agree with this framework? Do you think there are other things that are needed to turn an idea to a startup? Would love to hear from you., your ideas, feedback, experience, and questions.