General guide on building a start-up

Experiment often and with different niches. Use a structured process for each experiment, have a goal (what do you aim to find out), define a way to measure it (how are you figuring out if it has an impact), state a result (what is the conclusion). This could be applied to identifying a target group, a technical niche, a problem solution fit or as simple as: does a feature have a value for our customer. The more you experiment, the better your chances of finding a product market fit.

Do one thing at a time. One revenue stream. One target group. One technical niche. Pursue one revenue stream. You have limited resources as a start-up, founder and your aim is to reach profitability as soon as possible. Or alternatively, a storyline or a vanguard personality that allows you to raise millions, burn them and find some traction years later (okay, for deep tech start-ups this is a legitimate path to take).

Have a long-term vision and short-term steps to get there. Don’t be afraid if your product is complex or your vision difficult and longitudinally cumbersome to reach. Simplify it into steps and pursue them one at a time. Simplifying is a tough process, but done effectively can facilitate you in the process of raising capital, product planning and strategic business development.

Avoid buzzwords and try to explain your idea as concisely as possible. We suggest explaining your solution in a character limit of 150. It is a good ballpark to work with. Your solution should always include a unique selling proposition (USP). What sets your solution apart from the rest available in the market? This could be a technical USP (product based on a new programming framework) or a target USP (taking a solution and applying it across industries) among others.

State any challenges you will face upfront and be clear about how you will tackle them. For instance, the typical problem with marketplaces: who will you acquire first? Or the problem with open-source projects: how will you monetise them? Have a clear plan on how you will go about dealing with these issues. On the way, you can change your steps if another factor crops up that you did not think of or an opportunity arises which is often the case. Development is almost never linear or according to plan in a start-up. It is much more chaotic than that. It is absolutely important to have a plan but equally important to adapt. 

Don’t be afraid of competition or people copying your idea. If someone else can do it better than you, they probably should. Secrecy almost never helps and even the first mover advantage is questionable. Accept that we operate in a free-market economy and your aim should not be to establish an economy. Think of building a product that people will love using and that legitimately solves a customer pain point.

Know your runway. Consider funding. What Y combinator considers “ramen profitability” is imperative to calculate. Consider your costs: as a hardware start-up, your prototyping costs will probably supersede most other costs. As a software start-up: your costs depending on your skill set will be salaries. Be clear about how long you can last without finding or revenues. What is the minimum you need to be self-sufficient? Have a plan on how to get there. It could be via bootstrapping or via fundraising. Remember you are the best judge of your unique situation.

Know your market. How big is your market? Does your product have a billion-dollar market or are you aiming at a million-dollar market? Either way, be realistic about your aim and what you are building. Scaling and growth are not always great. You can start small and stop small. Or start big and stop small. Or start small but end up going big. Your market size will be based on assumptions and you need to make sure these are logically consistent not necessarily accurate.

In short, treat every decision as a micro-experiment, learn and reiterate. Have your scope set out and clear boundaries. When do you start? When do you keep going? And most importantly: when do you stop?

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