A few years ago I spent time with my good friend Greg Hartle at a Startup Weekend event in South Florida. Greg and I were both speakers at the event, and the subject of his talk was: What’s next?
If you aren’t familiar with Startup Weekend, it’s a 54-hour event where anyone can get on stage, pitch an idea for a business/app/product/service, and assemble a team of fellow entrepreneurs to make that idea happen. The great thing about Startup Weekend events is that there is no shortage of ideas. The tough thing about Startup Weekend is that it can leave many people wondering how to proceed with their idea.
What’s Next Once You Have An Idea?
As Greg started his talk he pulled a blue combination lock from his pocket (the one with the dial on the front that spins in both directions). Holding the lock in one hand and the microphone in the other, he handed the lock to a nearby attendee and asked her to open the lock.
He told her he couldn’t leave the stage until the lock was open.
Immediately this attendee went to work spinning the dial of the lock. She put it next to her ear and spun it. She looked at it and spun it. She even started Googling “how to unlock a combination lock.” All the while, Greg went on to share his story and talk about entrepreneurship (not talking about the lock at all).
A few minutes later Greg asked the woman how she was doing with the lock. She responded that she was, “working on it.” Greg said he had a piece of advice lots of entrepreneurs get to help them have success: Put in more hard work. He asked her to put in a little more effort into unlocking the lock.
Greg came back to the woman who had yet to unlock the lock. He had another piece of common startup advice and that was to: Use your passion. So he asked her to be more passionate about opening the lock. She channeled this suggestion by standing up and yelling “woo!” You can probably guess that the lock didn’t magically pop open, even with her extra enthusiasm.
A few minutes later Greg had more advice. This time he said “you have a team of people around the table, get them to help you.” She quickly huddled the six people at the table with her and passed the lock around. Everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders and tried spinning the dial in random directions.
Then Greg offered up his last piece of advice which many entrepreneurs hear and think: “Maybe you need more money to get the lock open?” He pulled some cash out of his pocket and handed it to someone at the table (to which that person shoved it in his pocket, causing the crowd and myself to laugh).
At this point, Greg had asked this table of people to open a combination lock using hard work, passion, teamwork, and money. All of those things are typical pieces of advice entrepreneurs get to be successful. Yet, as you can imagine, none of those things helped the attendees open the lock.
Finally, someone from the crowd shouted, “Just give them the combination!”
He pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket and said:
“Why don’t you try this: 34, 20, 6.”
A few seconds later the lock was open.
Greg finished his talk by explaining that entrepreneurs have a bias toward taking action, which is great but to take an idea and move it forward, you need to analyze and adjust.
Unfortunately, hard work, passion, teamwork, and money aren’t the solution to the problem either.
You need to understand that every business and every idea has a different combination for success. And unlike a combination lock, there’s no secret code for creating a successful business.
How Can You Take Your Startup Weekend Idea And Turn It Into A Real Business?
Step #1: Customer research
If you have an idea, you should also have thoughts about who your potential customers are. Before you do that, make sure you know what your product’s value proposition is (AKA your elevator pitch). What problem does your product solve? What need does your service fulfill? Find your potential customers and bring your idea to them.
Step #2: Analyze feedback
The next step is to analyze the feedback you get from potential customers. Do you see any trends? Did you hear common questions or hesitations? Do you see any big gaps that need filling? Were people excited? Did anyone say “I’d buy/support that thing today!”
Take all initial feedback and adjust your idea accordingly. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your initial vision, but it does mean you should listen and tweak your idea based on what your potential customers had to say.
Step #3: Build your MVP
From here you want to build a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP). This is the most basic version of your product or service so that you can get it out into the world and see if people will buy it. Your MVP could be an e-commerce website, a prototype product, a basic iPhone App wireframe, etc. When your MVP is ready, go back to those first potential customers and see if they’ll pay you money for your thing.
If they aren’t interested, why not? Is it the price point? Is it the way you’re pitching the product? Again, analyze their feedback and see what you can learn.
Step #4: Share your MVP
It’s time to take your MVP to the contacts you already have. At this point you’ve shown it to potential customers, so now you’ll want to put it in the hands of people who already trust you. What do they have to say about it? Don’t ask them to buy it, just ask for feedback and recommendations. If they aren’t potential customers, take buying feedback with a grain of salt. If your friends and family might know your potential customers, ask for introductions.
As you start to talk to more people you want to continue to analyze the responses you’re getting and adjust your business plan and product strategy. You might need to scrap your first prototype (MVP) entirely and start fresh. You might need to change the customers you’re targeting. There is a lot of testing and tweaking you should be doing, and that’s perfectly okay.
Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.
Having an idea is just the first step in a long line of steps. And while a lot of steps you take will be in the wrong direction, eventually you’ll find the right combination of things that bring you success.
No one can give you the perfect combination right now, and everyone’s combination is going to look different. Accept that. Prepare for it.
Startup Weekend is a wonderful place to get excited, inspired, and even team up with people. If you’ve never attended an event before, find an event near you.