How to prove your startup can succeed (or fail)

Success starts with identifying a problem and then testing to see if you have the right solution

When it comes to startups, we are living in very exciting times. Back in the day, (I believe it was a Wednesday) it was really hard to start and grow a successful business. Not that it’s necessarily easy today, but it was much more difficult than it is now.

Not long ago, you typically needed things like:

  • A formal education to acquire top notch business acumen
  • An experienced marketing and sales team to attract and retain customers
  • A world class credit score or deep pockets to ensure you could make it through the “startup phase”

Now it’s all changed.

Sort of…

So what’s changed?

You don’t need a formal education.

We have instant access to knowledge (read: Google), that can give us a proven playbook on how to run a successful business and learn from others mistakes.

On line courses like Lynda, Udemyand Coursera can provide specific training on almost anything you can think of.

You don’t need a marketing or sales team.

We have world wide access (read: Internet) to potentially unlimited amounts of customers that can easily sustain our business for years.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google Adwords have made the complex world of targeted marketing much more simple.

You don’t need to take on massive amounts of debt.

We now have access to virtually unlimited funds (read: Investors) that can help us fly away on our magically winged unicorn.

Depending on your goals, Venture Capital, Crowdfunding and Bootstrapping can be viable options for almost all types of businesses.

All that’s left is mixing in your brilliant idea.

You know what brilliant idea I’m talking about…

Remember when you were complaining the other night with your friends about how you wished “they” would come up with a thing that did something waaaaaay better than this stupid thing…

and then you were like…

“Wait…why don’t we make that thing?! Yeah! Come on everyone, let’s manifest our own destiny and do what we do every night PinkyTry to take over the world!!!

So now you take that brilliant idea, combine it with all of these wonderful changes and you get… magic

But…because you didn’t value (read: Do) user research, that magic typically lasts for a year or two…more if you’re lucky… and then it all comes crashing down.

So what hasn’t changed?

Emphasizing the importance of user research. Seems anti-climatic and boring. But it’s true.

Looking back a few years and comparing it to what has recently been going on with the resurgence (and some might argue refinement) of the good ‘ole american dream, it clearly doesn’t seem like we have really learned how to prove a business has a real chance of success (or a failure) before investing a lot of time and money.

“Maybe I’m crazy, but investing in a startup that doesn’t do user research makes no sense at all.”

What you can do to prove your startup will succeed (or fail)

I’ll give it to you in one simple call to action: Interview People

Deep down you probably already knew that, but seriously…get out of the building and have engaging discussions with Quality People. This simple action, if done on a regular basis, will help you understand if your startup even has a chance to succeed.

Here are some simple steps to help

Step 1: Define your Quality People

Quality people are those that actually use or do that stupid thing you are trying to make better and are willing to pay for your better thing. And be very specific.

Here’s an example definition:

Human resource professional working at a small to mid sized company that is using paper systems for the hiring process.

Now you have a clear definition of who you should talk to, the hard part is finding them right? Well…it doesn’t have to be.

Step 2: Find your quality people

You can quickly do this by identifying their current purchasing behaviors and the channels they utilize.

Here’s an example set questions you can think about to help you identify potential purchasing behaviors and channels:

  • Do your future users buy tools or supplies to make their job easier?
    • Where do they buy them?
  • Do your future users go to meetups or conferences?
    • Which ones do they go to?
  • Do your future users attend on-line or in person training?
    • Which ones do they attend?

Step 3: Contact your quality people

My advice on this one is to work smarter, not harder. Think about their behaviors and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do they utilize social media?
  • Does the conference have a community discussion forum?
  • Will the meetup/conference have a public list that shows who is attending?
  • Does the meetup/conference/training have an email list you could utilize?

Step 4: Interview and test your concept with quality people

This is where a lot people get hung up and start to think they can’t do it for whatever reason. But I say go for it! Reach out to these people through the channels you’ve identified and just ask. It’s that simple. You’re not going to get everyone to agree to talk to you, but that’s OK!! Most people are pretty willing to talk to someone that is trying to make their lives easier. 

To wrap up, some say user research is:

  • Hard to do
  • Too expensive
  • Isn’t necessary

And my favorite:

Yep…all are true. If you let them be true.

Now learn from other’s mistakes and go make something people love!

About Handrail

We built Handrail to help teams collaborate throughout the entire user research process. Plan, collect, analyze, store, and share your research all in one location. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.

Mat Winegarden

Product manager at Handrail. Sometimes I have ideas...other times I am brilliantly late to the party.

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