The number one question I’m asked by first-time startup founders is “where do I start? ”
The thing is, “where do I start?” isn’t just one question; it’s an overwhelming mass of unanswered questions.
How do you go about finding that early audience that will adopt your product? How do I get to them? What features does my product need? What tech stack do I need? Can I build a team that doesn’t lose money? How do you go about structuring my team? How much will it cost? How do I fund my product? Am I cut out to run a company?
I’ll answer a lot of these questions throughout this series. But in my experience, founders who build the most profitable and sustainable businesses answer just one question first: What is my business?
These founders are laser-focused on how their idea can make money (or if it’s not for profit, not lose money). They put the business model ahead of every other decision because it informs every future product, distribution, sales, and marketing decision.
And to get that business model right, they find out:
- What problem they’re solving.
- Who their customers are.
- What value they create for those customers.
- How to deliver that value at an appropriate cost.
- Above others, why they can make this idea work.
- Why now is the perfect time for this solution to come to market.
Then they build their product around these answers because these answers guide you and your (future) team on how to build your product — what to focus on and what to ignore.
Documenting everything on a lean canvas (like this one) can really help get everyone on the same page when it’s time to share your idea with others.
How to research and create your business model
Here’s my framework for researching and validating a business idea.
- Know the problem you’re solving. Is this something you’ve felt and experienced? You need some experience with the problem you’re solving. This is key to staying focused.
- Know your audience and customer. Understand what your customers are trying to do and how you can make things better. What’s causing them pain, or taking up time, or causing frustration? How can you help change the current situation?
- Find and talk to as many target customers as possible. Phone them, email them, buy them lunch if you must. This will give you a huge amount of insight into who they are and what they want. But remember, there are only so many customers you can talk to. Don’t assume the 10 customers you talked to represent the whole market.
- Get to know your competitors’ products. Use them and understand how their products work. Document their best features and biggest shortcomings. Build insight into pricing.
- Do you have the skills and training, the experience, the emotional driver, and the network you can use to your advantage?
- Can you build a moat? Can you build enough protection around you to shield you from those that possibly could do it as well?
Why a smart business model is the best idea protection
Another common question from new founders is “how do I protect my idea from being copied or stolen?”.
Here the thing, when you thoroughly create, research, and validate your business model, it starts to form a defensive knowledge-moat between you and the idea copycats, something that you will build day after day. No one will know more about the industry or your customers than you, and that puts you in a position to build a better product and deliver more value.
What’s more, you lose so much than you gain by keeping things close. You miss on insights and feedback from people who see the world differently to you — who aren’t too close to the project. And that’s going to limit your success hugely.
So there it is, the answers to “where do I start” and “how do I protect my idea from being copied or stolen?”. Once you’ve addressed these questions and can quantifiably show that your business model adds up, a lot of other questions answer themselves. But one that doesn’t is “how do I actually build my product?”.