The First Steps Every Entrepreneur Should Take Before 1 Line of Code is Written

The most common question that I get from entrepreneurs is “Hillel, I have an idea for a startup that I think is going to be huge, what now?”

First and foremost, ideas are a dime a dozen, and while companies might begin with a good idea, it is important to understand that your idea is less than one percent of the entrepreneurial journey.

Secondly, a very important disclaimer is in order. There are no rules to startups, and anyone who says otherwise is misleading you.

Having said that, here are some of the first steps you should take when building a startup:

Research, research, and when you’re done, research some more. 

This is by far the most important thing you’ll do in the life of your venture and it is also ironically the part that too many entrepreneurs skip. 

It’s a whole lot more exciting to announce a big funding round or to sign a huge partnership than it is to spend a month doing market research and competitive analysis. I get it. But if you don’t study the market extensively, you are going to be moving blindly and increasing your chances of failure dramatically. 

Now, here’s the thing with competitive analysis. You need to first understand what a competitor is, and more importantly, what it is not. A competitor is not only a company doing the same exact thing as you. It’s not an app that has the same feature set as yours. 

A competitor is someone who is targeting the same audience as you and offering the same value proposition. So, for example, if your product enables online publishers to increase the time on page of their readers, any company who offers that same pitch is your competitor. 

Research the landscape and make a map of a hundred of your closest competitors. 

Do things that don’t scale.

This concept was coined by one of the biggest tech investors worldwide, Paul Graham. 

The idea is that when the company grows, there are things you won’t he able to do; like interview every single one of your users or personally call people you want to recruit. 

At the beginning of the journey, it is important to do things that don’t scale and that you won’t be able to do later on. 

Use prototyping software and build an MVP. 

Before building an actual product, consider using platforms like Invision to build a minimal viable product. 

This will accomplish two things. It will give you the opportunity to visualize your idea and see if it actually has legs and it’ll also enable you to show it to people and gather feedback. It’s one thing to pitch someone verbally and it’s another to demo them an actual prototype. 

Get the initial product in the hands of your closest friends and family. 

Once you have that prototype or even a real product with minimal features, give it to some friends and ask them to use it. 

This is how many companies including Fiverr for example, launched. 

By giving it to people you trust, you know you’ll get honest feedback. Since you are so deep into this idea, you are biased. Your friends are not. 

Let them tell you what they think about the product and then proceed accordingly. 

Measure, analyze, and learn from the data. 

Once you have some people using your product, make sure to use analytics software to see how they’re using it, what feature they use most, where they get stuck, at what point they jump ship and close the app, and more. 

Numbers don’t lie and neither does actual usage data. Analyze the data carefully to see if there is true product market fit. 

Make a list of risk factors. 

This is something that will help you down the road. Try to objectively make a list of possible points of failure. Again, try to be as unbiased as possible. Ask yourself, “If this venture fails, why would it fail?”

This could include an overly saturated market, too many features, too few features, lack of product market fit, a weak go-to-market strategy and countless other factors. 

Make that list and then try to address every one of the points. This will prepare you for future meetings when an investor asks you about the feasibility of your company. If you already thought of and answered the hard questions, you’ll be one step ahead of the investor. 

The bottom line is don’t rush so fast into writing code because your idea and your code are absolutely worthless unless you take some initial steps to make sure your venture even has a future.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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