Dear advisor: I have a startup idea, what Should i do next?

(or) How to validate your idea -- and align incentives -- before spending money to build an MVP

Post was originally published in September 2020 and updated in March, May-August 2021, September + October 2022, and March, May, June + August + November 2023 for relevancy.

Having mentored over 75 (very) early-stage founders, I get asked this question a lot. Here's my industry-agnostic advice for those who are just starting out. 

You have an idea for your start-up (!). To help you see if the idea has potential for product market fit, you'll need to iron out the following (no easy task!):

TL;DR: Understand who your customers are, what pain points you're solving for them, and who will pay for it (and how much) -- before developing a mockup/wireframe of your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Part 0: Identify (Prospective) Pain Point you're Trying to Solve -- AKA Workflow, Workflow, Workflow

Bryant Chou, one of Webflows' founders, in an interview for First Round Review, put it this way:

...a lot of founders jump into a solution without even understanding the problem. ... immersion in the problem space is extremely important. If you're trying to build a unique product that is solving a pain point, you have to really understand what and who you’re solving for.

Please note: As you go through the rest of the exercise/questions outlined here, all of these points may change; and that's expected (and desired), because then the solution will end up more tailored to solving your customers' needs.

Part I: Identify your target customers

Why do this? Amos Shwartzfarb in his book Levers: The Framework for Building Repeatability into Your Business, writes that if you are able to really narrow down who you serve, how and why -- every sales call will lead to a sale (!).

Here's a framework to help you iron out these questions: JTBD.

Part II: Meet your customers to refine what value you bring

Before you spend any money on developing a solution, talk to your prospective customers to narrow down who they actually are, really understand their needs and the value you bring to your customers -- and see if they’d be willing to pay for a solution to their problems. Sometimes it feels like a catch-22, you need customers to find more customers. How do you get started and find your first one?

Part III: Iterate on Parts 0, I and II

Following the build-measure-learn cycle, you'll want to build a questionnaire to help you listen to your customers, see if:

Note: If you're developing a SaaS product, consider offering consulting services or partnerships to prospective customers, to help you prove out and fine-tune the MVP.

Part IV: Determine scope of MVP

Learning from all of the above, what's the 1 smallest thing you can do today (with your Minimum Viable Product or MVP) -- to help solve one aspect of your customers' pain points to entice them to get your product?

Part V: Mockup and Iterate on Parts 0 - IV

Part VI: Get Support

You've tried the above and are you looking for more advice, including which potential customers to go-to-market (GTM) -- let's talk through it and see where you can improve, in a flat-fee session

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