The culture and rise of startups is changing the way businesses are created, managed, and scaled. Heck, it’s changing the ways ideas are acted upon. Having a concept for a business, and setting your sights on hyper-growth is an exciting concept, and has brought tons of innovative and important products to the marketplace. A beautiful and intoxicating part of startups is that it’s a pretty fair game for whomever has a solid idea, and wants to work their asses off. You can be a college student, or an established executive, and have a relatively equal shot at succeeding if your idea represents a need you’re genuinely compelled to solve for.
If you’ve got an idea, and are considering starting a startup, take some time to do your research and ask yourself some hard questions. We love listening to Sam Altman at Y Combinator talk about some of the key things to consider in launching an idea or company. Here are some of our favorite questions that stem from his work with hundreds of startups.
What is motivating you?
The idea of starting a startup is an exciting thought. And because of that, it is common they are started for the sake of doing so (spoiler alert: there are lots of easier ways to get rich!). This is a dangerous place to start from, as the journey in launching a company is a painful process. While often rewarding, it is a guarantee that it will take a ton of time, energy, failure, and reinvention. The average startup founder spends 10 years on an idea. The motivation must be because you are truly compelled by the problem you’re solving for with your product.
Would you use your product?
If the problem you’re solving for is relevant to your life and needs, your sense of how it should be built and what the rest of your market may feel and need will be much stronger. If this isn’t the case, then you may need to consider all of the ways you have access to your target market. Can you spend time in their office/homes/communities? Are they available to you to ask them a bajillion questions? If you’re not an ideal user type, then find some — and keep them close.
What does your idea look like in 10 years?
It’s all too easy to look at the current market and focus on that in terms of building your company or idea. But in reality, you should be much more concerned with what the growth rate is of that market. Above, we mention the average startup founder works on an idea for 10 years. Where will your market be then? Does your idea support that growth and remain relevant with that in mind? This segways to our next important question.
Is your target market one that doesn’t exist?
Startups are built to be lean, and to “pivot” whenever necessary. They are taught to be ready to change on a dime. However, the only thing that you can’t change is a nonexistent market. This seems like a simple enough question, but it’s overlooked too many times. Clearly define who your user is, and make sure you’re solving a problem that they are desperate to solve.
Can you describe your idea in one or two sentences?
Think about when someone asks you about your idea. Do you notice them getting confused? Do you find yourself over explaining, giving tons of examples, or perhaps avoiding sharing it at all? Get your idea to a place that can be shared succinctly in one or two sentences. Lots of people may think your idea is bad. This shouldn’t trip you up. Many startups were born from ideas that nobody thought needed to exist. The important part is that it’s clearly articulated, and that you know it’s solving a problem that needs a solution.
Are you going too big, too fast?
Don’t play into the ideology that your idea should sound like the next earth shattering product to ravage the world. In fact, those ideas often get clumsy and unfocused. We talked about this in our post about MLP. Meet a core need, learn what your users love, get your small batch of users to love you; and suddenly you’ve created a monopoly in a small market that can grow to a large one. Your product won’t catch on like wildfire if the spark never turns to a flame with a specific group of users.
Do you have a mission?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; building a company is hard work. It takes time, iteration upon iteration, growth, failure, and a lot of support. It is so important in this process to have a clear mission to return to. This allows for stronger teams, a clear brand voice, more users, and increased support from investors. If there isn’t a solid thread of something you’re compelled by, it will be that much more difficult to remain motivated by your business.