Entrepreneurs suddenly have an idea and then they just want to get going building the product and starting the new business. All entrepreneurs are impatient people. It’s hard to pull on the reins and get them to stop and investigate the idea before they go full speed ahead.
Almost all serial entrepreneurs and investors know that whatever the founder believes is the first product, won’t be the product. It’s almost always a variant. The better the starting point, the faster and more efficiently the entrepreneur will arrive at the start-up’s true first product offering.
What is it and why should it exist?
Most entrepreneurs start with the product idea. Before even thinking about wrapping a business around the product, the entrepreneur should ask themselves these questions.
What is the problem that the product solves? How much of the problem do you solve for the customer? A customer wants the total solution, not just 10% of it. Is the problem one the customer desperately wants solved? Are customers currently searching for a solution and unable to find one? Are they willing to spend to solve it? Does the customer need the problem solved immediately? How do you know these answers?
If the entrepreneur doesn’t have the answers then the start-up is already in trouble. The last question is there because I am always in awe at how many start-ups have never talked to an actual customer, and their answers are based solely upon research!
TIP: Exploring possibilities doesn’t require paperwork
Many entrepreneurs believe they have to have completed and filed all the corporate paperwork with the required government agencies before starting their venture. No, you don’t. You can create a company name, print business cards, give yourself any title you like, get a domain name, put up a website, and have a corporate email account without any incorporations, licenses, or permits.
Talk is cheap and you can answer the above questions without waiting for filings. Find the answers first.
TIP: Understanding Customers’ Work Behaviors
Many entrepreneurs have difficulty getting to speak with customers. Most will cold call or send unsolicited emails. The result is being ignored. Why? In an office environment, most people are most concerned about what work they need to get done today or the meeting they have to go to in an hour. They are trying to get through their daily to-do list and you are distracting them.
The solution is getting to talk to them when they are someplace where they are there to network and connect with others. That’s why attending conferences, tradeshows, workshops, and seminars works so well. They are removed from their day-to-day tasks. If you are targeting big companies as customers or are going to a large event, consider volunteering to register attendees. I know a founder who always works speakers’ registration, his potential customers come to him and while he’s checking them in, he gets to make an appointment to speak with them during the conference. It also means the conference for free.
Some of the smaller events will provide you with the attendee list. This will allow you to do research ahead of time. You can attend the meeting and look for specific people to talk with, and this is the real reason there are name tags and badges at events!
TIP: Learning What the Customer Really Wants
Most entrepreneurs get in front of their potential customers and spend all their time telling customers about the products they are creating. At some point in the conversation, consider asking the customer what are their top problems right now. It amazes me why founders just don’t ask, “What one problem would you pay anything to solve right now?” The answer may surprise you and you may just discover a better product to offer.
A good foundation is worth a lot to a start-up. It is not something that can be done in a day, a week or even a month. But getting a good starting point will simply make the rest of the planning and execution easier.
About the Author
Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups and has served on various advisory boards. Cynthia has held various technical, marketing, and management positions at IBM and Matrox Electronics. Cynthia has engineering and mathematics degrees from the University of Rochester and the University of Virginia. Cynthia writes the popular Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog
http://www.cynthiakocialski.com/ and has written the book, “Startup From The Ground Up - Practical Insights for Entrepreneurs, How to Go from an Idea to New Business”.