So you want to start a new company or create a breakthrough product or service? You’ve probably read all the industry reports on the growth trends for mobile apps, the market briefs on software as a service and the articles about cloud computing. The market opportunities look very attractive. You have a great idea and you’ve even assembled a good team to develop the solution. But where do you start? If you build it, will they come? Or do you first get funding to develop the product?
First things first. Funding is rare for any idea, and it's nearly impossible if you don't have customers already using your service and generating some revenue from sales of your product. So what should your first move be?
Here are five simple steps to get you started on the right foot:
1. Clearly define your mission and your offering. Recently, I met with an entrepreneurial team launching a new software as a service company. They had all the aforementioned foundations for a strong startup: a good idea, a good development team assembled, a well-developed prototype, and a good handle on trends and market direction—but they had no customers nor were they running any alpha or beta pilots.
Not only was the team missing a strong value proposition and a good story to tell a potential buyer, but they also were lacking any current customer environment knowledge. In other words, they could not relate to any potential customers.
What is the big, juicy question entrepreneurs and product owners must clearly answer? It’s simple: “Who cares, and why?” So often a product pitch spends too much time on all the great technology that makes up the solution. What buyers really care about is how it will improve their lives.
Your story should include:
a. How you solve a big, messy problem by making things easier. Simplifying lives is a great value proposition!
b. How you make something engaging or fun by relieving stress and providing a much-needed break from the doldrums of the everyday.
c. How you excite your customers, wake up their senses and give them a really cool user experience.
Your company story is the foundation for communications (press, website content, what you do and why you do it). Building a one-page key messages document based on the company story is an important tool to ensure your teams are communicating consistently, as well as make it easier for teams to create content for your website, your press announcements and any other content being created about you, your company or your product.
In building your key messages page, make sure you address how your product story fits into the company’s mission. Why did you develop the offering and how does it contribute to realizing the long-term goals of your company and serve your customers or the market you are targeting?
2. Leverage all the collaborative methods that are available today to create inputs and feedback. The good news today is that we are never without feedback, unless we put ourselves in a room, lock the doors, turn off all our devices, and don’t allow anyone else to enter until our masterpiece is complete.
Rather than live in isolation, there are so many various ways for us to learn about market opportunities with others. For example, build inviting paths toward co-creation and collaboration with customers, partners, friends and consumers. Create engaging information-gathering events to drive input. Connect in ways you never have before. The more you give here, the more you will get back later.
3. Turn on your ears and turn up your social listening skills. With so many billions of people in the world, it’s more than likely that someone out there on the Web is talking about something they need that relates to what you want to create. How can you interact with these individuals or businesses? What can you do to create stronger social listening in the areas that may relate to your idea? Google Alerts and a newer service called Mention are terrific resources for social listening. It can notify you when keywords relating to your product are used in news sources, blogs, videos, discussion and books. Not only does it help you stay abreast of all the various market news and industry trends, but it also allows you to discover and immediately interact with potential customers in real time, therefore easily uncovering new clients for your business and giving you a head start over your competition.
4. Know your competition, direct and indirect. This seems like a no-brainer, but nearly every entrepreneurial endeavor we see minimizes the competition. Over the past four years, my company, Plazabridge Group, has visited with entrepreneurs in sessions we call DealDesks. I have provided feedback to more than 300 startup businesses and have heard, way too often, “We haven't really seen much competition in this space.” If you can anticipate where competition could come from, then you are better prepared for current market competitors and possible future threats.
Leverage a local university to find interns to help you evaluate the market you are entering and create a competitive landscape. Many of the interns will appreciate this kind of work, providing you with great insights and them with great experience.
- Direct the interns to research that is desired and needed.
- Offer interns an opportunity to review the product or service you have created so they have a foundational understanding.
- Have the interns seek out potential users of this type of service to help identify market opportunities.
- Ask them to create a competitive landscape assessment. (Direct and indirect competition is important to include, but so are potential threats of companies that could easily create an offering like yours.)
5. Conduct alpha pilots and beta pilots … with friendlies (the people you trust the most). You want to ensure that as many of the bugs and kinks in your product are worked out and taken care of as soon as possible, especially before inviting strategic potential buyers and investors to review your work. Incorporate any meaningful feedback from these pilots whenever possible. And, of course, don’t forget to ask permission to use the friendlies as references.
Once you have a product offering that's stable and delivers on its promise, you can put your launch plans into action. There are several considerations for launching a new offering, including:
- Launching a limited release to a specific region, select group of customers or some small representation of the desired market. This allows you to continue to gather customer insights and ensure the services are stable, and provides more time for a very strong, successful global release launch.
- Or you may immediately have a global release of your new product to be first to market or accelerate revenue opportunities and market positioning.
Remember, every step of the way: Confidence is key, and listening to market feedback is essential.
Read more articles on how to grow a business.
OPEN card member Teresa Spangler is Founder & CEO (@composerspang on Twitter) of Plazabridge Group (@Plazabridge on Twitter), an advisory and boutique management consulting firm offering creative programs, services and products that drive the financial and market growth of its clients. With an emphasis on sales/revenue growth, operational best practices and commercialization strategies, it works closely with its clients to affect change and reenergize workgroups with passion.
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