Over the past 6 months I have been working full-time with my co-founders on two ed-tech web applications – Curri and HelpCue. The latter is a web application that facilitates the asking of questions in a classroom. It has been a difficult experience at times but the challenge has been extremely fun and very rewarding. The intention of this blog post is to focus on the big lessons so far.
Be passionate about the problem AND solution
Start with a problem you really care about because building a business is an uphill battle and you need every ounce of passion and energy in you to keep it up. Going “out of the building”, following Steve Blank’s advice, you might find real unsolved problems but do you care about solving them?
The lean startup model also advocates a solution that is “a work in progress”; something that you iterate on until you get it just right. It doesn’t advocate asking customers for the solution. Customers know their problem but asking them what they want is a terrible idea. You need to combine your learning, experiences, skills and creativity into a solution that you really believe might work.
If the solution is great then you might have a chance at building a successful company.
Remember that it’s a business
We are a team of product developers so most of our time was spent thinking about the problem, the solution, the technology, etc. This is good, but unfortunately product development is just one part of what makes a startup.
Fifty percent or more of your time as a startup should be spent gathering information, talking to potential customers, developing relationships, gaining an audience, getting exposure, and thinking about your business.
Early on you need to answer: is anyone interested in your product? who/what are your competitors? how much pain is your product relieving? how much are people willing to pay?
You might build a product that solves a problem but you fail because people don’t know about your solution, the problem isn’t painful enough, there are alternative solutions that are cheap or free, etc.
Successful entrepreneurs spend a lot of their time developing creative business models.
Know your audience
Who are you building this product for? Don’t think in abstract terms, be specific. Do you know a person or organization by name that will buy this?
Start with a hypothesis of who your customer is and go out and talk to them. Start a relationship, ask questions, listen to how they do their work, what they struggle with, how they solve their struggles.
It can’t be stressed enough how hard this is to do. It’s time consuming and it can be discouraging. If no one in the startup can do this effectively then you will probably fail.
Make people’s lives easier
Software needs to make people’s lives easier and more efficient. It also needs to fit into people’s workflow. People overestimate their ability to learn, adapt and incorporate new tools. So create something that takes as little effort as possible to adopt. Put a lot of effort into creating a great user experience.
If we can create software that fits into teachers’ workflows and make the whole process more efficient then that’s huge. It might solve the labour disputes that happen almost every day here in Canada’s public school system because teachers won’t feel overworked anymore.
Be grateful for the opportunity
Building a startup is difficult and often times frustrating. But it’s an opportunity to tackle a problem you’re passionate about. Instead of building someone else’s vision you get to forge your own path. If you succeed then help others travel through this journey; make their experience a little easier. If you don’t succeed then take the learning to heart. Building a startup is an amazing learning experience and it’s something to be grateful for.
A lot has been written about startups, their success and failure. Some have even tried to develop a process that supposedly increases a startup’s chances of success. But at the end of the day what makes a startup successful in my mind is persistence, passion and a lot of luck.