After Startup Weekend: What Comes Next? Test Your Product

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Many local entrepreneurs are still riding the high of Startup Weekend Kansas City, which took place May 29th-31st at the Think Big Partners space in the Crossroads district. Our last blog post addressed the first questions many Startup Weekend teams face the Monday after the event — should we keep the momentum going? And how do we structure our team for success?

The Startup Weekend global organization says that,

Over 36% of Startup Weekend startups are still going strong after 3 months. Roughly 80% of participants plan on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend.

If you're one of those participants who continues to work on your idea once the event has concluded, this blog series is for you. Aside from structuring your team to give you a competitive edge, there's another big question that needs to be answered before you commit all of your time to this exciting new venture:

Is This Idea Really Worth Building?

Often, early-stage startup teams become blindly focused on the question of “can we build it?” instead of "should we build it?". It’s an understandable mistake — the majority of our lives are centered around constructive problem solving and achieving goals. We rarely are challenged to step back and evaluate our goals on a conceptual level.

Coming off the high of an event like Startup Weekend, it can be easy to assume that you've stumbled across a golden idea, especially if you've received plenty validation during the event. But it can be a costly mistake not to take a hard, honest look at the validity of your product or service before you sink your time and effort into developing it. Ask yourself a few big questions:

  1. Does this idea solve a real problem?
  2. Will people pay to have this problem solved?
  3. How much will they pay? 

Answer these questions for yourself, and be brutally honest. That's the easy part. Now, you need to ask the people whose opinion matters most: your prospective customers.

Test Your Idea

Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of the brilliant book The Lean Startup, has written extensively about a recurring phenomenon he has noticed when studying startup failures: too many startups spend too much time perfecting a product that they never show to prospective consumers before it is released. It might be a great product, but if it hits the market and there is no consumer interest, what was the point?

To counter this problem, Ries developed the Lean Startup Method, a method of startup management that includes rigorous testing of an idea to ensure that its development is worthwhile to pursue. Here are some of the most critical steps he recommends:

  • Build your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Essentially, this is a stripped-down version of the product. This MVP can be used in real-world testing with real prospective customers to ensure that there is some actual interest in the product.
  • Test rigorously. Expose the MVP to customers and take detailed notes on the responses you receive — this is ultimately what will determine the likelihood of success for any startup.
  • Always remember startups are the result of a solved problem or an unmet need.

How Does the MVP Work?

We often cite another "lean startup" proponent and the author of Running Lean, Ash Maurya, and his perspective on the MVP. Ash describes the MVP in his blog:

“A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).” 

MVPs work best when they adhere to the principles of “Build — Measure — Learn.”

1. BUILD

First, build something really basic. And I mean basic. Think of the most stripped-down version of your idea that still gets the concept across. 

Remember: the Palm Pilot started out as a block of wood. DropBox started as a simple 3-minute video describing how the service should work to an audience of tech early adopters. 

2. MEASURE

See if someone, anyone, will buy it. Use social media, a landing page, or a crowd-funding site to get your idea in front of prospective customers. If you can get someone to give you cold hard cash for your idea in its most basic form, then move ahead to the next step. If not, go back to the drawing board.

3. LEARN

Listen to your customer's feedback — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t be tempted to hear only what you want to hear and discount the customer’s opinion. True, the customer doesn’t always know what they want, but they always know what they don’t want. 

Ultimately, any steps you take to ensure success will be for nothing unless you are willing to commit 100% to those steps. You can't just go halfway, or you risk setting yourself up for a colossal waste of your time, energy, and talent. If (and only if!) you can achieve some level of success testing your MVP, then you can fully commit to seeing through the rest of the development phase for your product.

Check in next week for our thoughts on the next step from Startup Weekend to Startup Success: forming the right partnerships. Tweet us @SparkLabKC with your thoughts!

(image credit: women2.com)