You Have an Idea—Now What? 3 First Steps for Your Start-up
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So you’ve come up with a rocking idea that’s going to change the world. How exciting! I remember the moment when my business partner and I were brainstorming, and we knew we had hit on that perfect idea. It was totally exhilarating.
But, after three years of working on my start-up Have to Have, a modern-day e-commerce registry that helps you decide what to buy (and tells you when your favorite items go on sale!), I’m now convinced that coming up with the idea was the easy part. The real challenge lies in actually making it happen. (The good news: This is also the fun, intellectually stimulating, and totally rewarding part.)
But lucky for you, there are others who’ve gone down this path before. So once you’ve settled on your idea, follow this three-step roadmap for taking action.
1. Good Ol’ Market Study
The first step to validating your idea is to study the market. Research the competitive landscape, and ask yourself two things: “Why has no one done this before?” and “Why can I do it better?”
When you’re analyzing the answers to these questions, be aware how much money is there to be made—no matter how excited you are about your idea, you’ll want to make sure that it’s one that can become profitable. The most important first step is to calculate the size of your market. Ideas with big market potential tend to be much more viable, so if your expected reach is too small, think about how you can adapt your idea.
Once you’ve done that, start mapping out your idea—put a pen to paper to determine how your product looks, who you’re going to market it to, and what potential distribution strategies you’ll use. Fleshing out the concept, even if it’s still just rough (and trust me, it’ll be rough) will help you determine if it’s actually worth your time to pursue.
2. Build a Team
One of the most daunting aspects of entrepreneurship is determining how you will actually, physically make things happen. But it’s important to know that you don’t have to do everything by yourself—in fact, you can (and probably should) partner with people who have experience in areas where you aren’t as proficient.
As you’re mapping out your idea, determine what skill sets are going to be most important in turning that idea into a reality. Do you need a developer to build a technical platform? A co-founder who knows the industry inside and out? Then, think about people in your life who could help you find your team. Alumni networks and LinkedIn are great resources when you begin—you’ll be surprised by how many people in your life can point you in the right direction.
As you start to build your team, a big question early on will be how to compensate people before you actually start making money. Besides paying people out of your savings, you actually have several options—deferred payment, equity that vests over time, or a title of “co-founder” or “advisor.” (Note: these options are not mutually exclusive).
No, not everyone can or will be willing to work for free, but working on a great start-up is appealing to others for the same reasons it’s appealing to you: the potential for big-time success. It all starts with selling people on your vision.
3. Get Going and Execute
While you’re starting to build your team, you should also be working on your idea. One common misconception people have is that your product must be perfect before you show it to people. But most entrepreneurs advise building a “minimum viable product,” or the easiest and cheapest version of your idea possible, so that you can test it out.
One of our advisors encouraged us to get a rough prototype built so we could show it to potential customers and retail partners to get their feedback—and we learned a ton! Both groups validated that we’re solving a real problem they face and identified what they loved about the early product. They also gave us honest feedback on the aspects of the site that needed more consideration. We used these findings to build on our prototype, which turned into our alpha site, our beta site, and finally Have to Have, which we launched this past September, after a year and a half.
Remember that each time you show your product to an audience, you’ll learn something. And whether that something is the perfect product-market fit, a complete lack thereof, or something in between, you’ll be much better off knowing that (and switching gears if need be) sooner rather than later.
Each of these steps take a lot of time and energy—probably more than you ever bargained for. Nobody ever said that starting a company would be easy! But if you have an idea that you just can’t wait to bring to life, take it from me: It’s 100% worth it to turn that dream into a reality.