Whether it’s building a minimum viable product or bringing on board its first key hires, there are key bits of prep every startup needs to carry out prior to releasing to the public
Saying entrepreneurialism is popular is quite the understatement. A socioeconomic shift has taken place that has led to a mass migration away from employment at large corporations. And part of the reason for this is that starting your own business has never been easier, cheaper or more achievable. The promise of being in control of one’s destiny, of being creative and having the potential for greater financial rewards is clearly appealing but how do you pull it all together and get a product to market?
Building an MVP
The notion of a minimum viable product (MVP) is less defined than it used to be. There are plenty of articles citing the death of the MVP, generally making the point that you only get one chance to make a first impression and so your first effort should be on the money. I would suggest that MVP is an internal term that you can use to define a short list of your key functions and value principles.
The aim should be to test your core assumptions and find out as soon as possible whether a decent number of people find your product or service useful. Entrepreneurs can find it difficult to temper their vision and will often feel a need to build the all singing, all dancing product from the outset. However the risk of doing so is the additional expense, time to market and loss of enthusiasm through the process.
Builders say ‘measure twice, cut once’; the same is true in business, especially at the early stage of a build. Spend the time working through a very detailed specification before you start building anything, be clear on what you want to build and how it’s going to look in different environments. This process may take longer than you would like and you’ll be starting to get anxious about your time to market but time after time I’ve seen entrepreneurs create major challenges for themselves through exuberance, over spending and blind optimism. Be realistic, be defined and be organised.
Building a team
So unless you are the rare combination of talent that embodies the best of entrepreneur, operational director, chief technology officer and marketer, you are going to need some help; ideally this will come in the form of a co-founder. Even if you are a polymath, there are only so many hours in the day and if you want to grow you’re going to need to find some great people to work with.
The lead entrepreneur is generally responsible for recognising the opportunity and selling the vision of a business. When I started OFF3R, I managed to pull together a pretty crude MVP using an agency I had worked with in the past but I knew the business needed somebody with more operational and technological experience.
I had been talking with a good friend for some time about the prospect of working together. He was working for a large consultancy firm delivering complex technologies to blue chip clients and I was confident we would be a formidable pairing. With a sprinkling of luck and good timing, James joined OFF3R as co-founder and COO and since he joined it has turbo charged our business and enabled us to strive for much bigger goals.
In building your team you must start with looking at yourself in an objective and honest way. You need to understand where the gaps are and what talent you need to attract to fill those gaps. You can barely go on LinkedIn without seeing the Steve Jobs quote regarding hiring smart people to tell you what to do and the reason it’s so popular is because there’s a lot of truth in it. Founders that exercise too much control may well prevent a business from growing as quickly as it could.
Getting support from your industry
Aside from building your operational team, you should also leverage your network and begin to build new connections with key players in your sector. This includes the competition. In nascent industries, especially if you want to foster a culture of shared purpose and vision, you should spend time getting to know other entrepreneurs in the space to understand the challenges they have faced and to gain insight into where they think the industry is going. This will give you a sense of being part of a wider movement, which can help to combat the feeling of isolation that startups can feel.
In building OFF3R, I made a point of talking regularly with key platform owners, journalists and influencers to help shape the product in a way that would generate as much support as possible. This may be especially important for our business because, as a marketplace for alternative investments, we need to ensure a great working relationship with a large number of partners. In other sectors, you’d want to have a think about who can help you with distribution and marketing very carefully. And I’ve found that quality is better than quantity: if you can line up a handful of key influencers your message and impact will be stronger than with scores of smaller fragmented outlets.
With the propellant provided by product, people and partners, your startup is ready for launch. And there the journey really begins.