You’ve come up with the idea. You’ve developed the business plan. You can visualize what success might look like. This is your entrepreneurial moment of truth.
Once a startup is launched and has reached a certain point of growth, these will be the happy memories of the early days you reflect back upon. There is always a risk, however, that some things won’t go as planned. Maybe you won’t be able to raise enough money. Perhaps the business won’t scale to become a profitable, viable entity. It’s also possible that you will misjudge the demand for whatever products and services you’re introducing to the market.
Not every startup founder will experience these extremes, of course. For many, the reality might fall somewhere in the middle -- a company that never becomes a household name but runs smoothly enough that it can provide a good livelihood and value to its customers. Even then, though, you’re looking at a lot of time, energy and other resources that will go into making it.
This is the point where you might want to stop and ask yourself: is it really worth it?
Don’t worry if that seems too complex a question to answer right away. It might make better sense to think through some other questions instead -- issues that will inevitably define the journey you take as an entrepreneur, and which will test whether you have what it takes to overcome some of the obstacles that come up along the way.
The concept of a “minimum viable product,” or MVP, has become deeply entrenched in startup culture that it may lack a universally understood definition. To most experts, though, it probably refers to having an offering that’s real enough you can test the waters with potential customers, investors and even other people you want to join your team. An MVP should not only teach you about whether your idea is any good, but whether you can turn the product or service into something you can mass-produce or offer to a large volume of customers.
Some products can be well-designed, easy to use and still fail to find enough buyers willing to open their wallets. It might be a matter of pricing the product according to what the market can reasonably afford. Or, you might need to bundle the product with other things that will allow customers to be successful. Product-market fit might also be determined by how well what you’re offering meets the specific pain points or challenges of customers of a certain size, within certain industries and so on.
Lots of companies are launched not by a single entrepreneurs but by co-founders. One co-founder might be great at developing the product, for example, while the other has a good head for business development and operational kinds of tasks. Even if you’re working with a partner, you might want to consider other resources, such as incubators and accelerator programs where you can learn from like-minded startups.
Lots of organizations are interested in funding startups, from traditional financial institutions like banks to major programs such as Salesforce Ventures, independent venture capitalists, and even angel investors. All of these groups might have different interests or requirements, so you’ll want to do your research beforehand.
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs will cultivate an inner circle of more seasoned business professionals who will sit on their board, make introductions to other helpful people or even act as an informal sounding board as ideas are taken from conception to launch. It pays to have second, third or even fourth opinions based on hard-won expertise.
Great businesses offer more than products or services that meet a need. They see themselves as addressing fundamental problems in industries or even society at large. You don’t have to walk around saying your business will change the world, but having a deeper sense of purpose will help define your brand and even some of your decisions once you launch.
You may have an idea good enough that you secure funding right away, allowing you to quit your full-time job and devote yourself entirely to making your startup work. Or, you might have to wait awhile, developing the business in your spare time while continuing to earn money to make ends meet. Many people have these “side hustles,” and even if you need to fall back on your day job, you’ll learn a lot and feel fulfilled pursuing a passion project.
Always stay one step ahead by imagining your day-to-day life post-launch. You’ll need to prospect for customers and grow your share of business within existing ones. You’ll need to continually build your brand. Questions and complaints from customers will be non-stop. The technology is there to help you, but it might be best to learn more about customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation and customer service tools sooner rather than later.
The concept of an ideal customer profile, or IDP, is designed to help think through the personas of the people who will buy your products and services. The better you can think about what they look like, sound like and even think like, the better you’ll be able to create an experience they won’t be able to resist. Investors and other key stakeholders may want to know about your IDP too.
Do you see this startup growing and growing until it becomes a household name? Will you eventually want to sell it off to a rival, or hope to be acquired by a third party? This may seem premature to think about, but seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you it is all part of having an effective game plan.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how you’d respond to all these questions right away. Start thinking about them now -- and as you do, you’ll be closer to launching a startup that has a real chance of turning into an industry success story.