9 ways to validate your startup

9 ways to validate your startup

As an aspiring entrepreneur, having an optimistic attitude, a marketable solution to a problem and a vague plan in the name of a “strategy” is never enough. Before nose diving into an idea for a startup, you need to take a step back and have a bird’s eye-view of the entire strategy. Many minute things are to be taken into consideration before you start turning your dream into reality. When you start an endeavour, you have to know that you need a good system to implement that startup idea and scale it up gradually. All the potential hurdles are to be taken into account and several plan Bs to each hurdle should be devised. There are several ways to validate the survivability of your start-up. Validation is the process of determining whether your solution is genuinely helpful towards solving the problems of your target customer base.

Let us take a good look at some methods that you can use to validate the idea of your start-up :

  1. Agreement

The first step towards establishing a startup to build solutions to a problem is to ensure and have agreement that the problem actually exists. Successful startups begin with identifying a problem themselves, identifying the target customers, and then ensuring that the the target customer base agrees that there indeed is a problem and they do require a product or a service that will help them solve it.

  1. Assessment

You are your best critic. Nobody can gauge and assess your virtues and flaws as meticulously as you, yourself will. Therefore, a self-assessment might be a plausible approach to checking the validity of your idea. Question yourself, are you doing it for the money, for your customers or do you want to reach a middle-ground. Is your plan really foolproof? If not, what hurdles might be there? Are you prepared for the hurdles? – and so on. It’s free and it’s reliable, because only you can judge yourself harshly while having your own best interest in mind

3. Competition

While focussing on catering to the needs of your loyal customers should be on the top of your priority list, being aware of the market around your start-up is also important. An important part of the market you’re trying to establish your company in are your competitors. More often that not, they are similar individuals or group of individuals with ideas and aspirations like yours. Studying their market demographic and their past sales strategies can be a very helpful way to assess what worked out for them and what didn’t – because chances are, things will play out similarly for you too. Therefore, while making mistakes is a good thing, perhaps learning from the mistakes that others have made is a smarter thing to do.

  1.  Market Demographic

Studying the market and knowing the demographic of your customers is a major part of establishing a company. It helps you understand your customer base better and take important decisions such as estimating investment, gauging the demand and advertising the product in a way that would appeal to the target customers. Once you understand your customer demographic, it will become clearer to you whether your idea is valid and whether or not your start-up will be successful. This also helps you get a clearer idea about the approach that you should take and helps you strategize for the future.

  1. Test Promotion

Creating a page on social media, before the starting or launch of the actual product/service is a good way to gauge the overall reaction of the prospects. The amount of response the promotional campaign receives is a detrimental factor in deciding what approach to take in the future. Moreover, it also helps create a sense of excitement and buzz in the market for the new products/service that is going to arrive soon.

  1. Creating a Minimum Viable Product

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just the basic, essential  features.. It is launched at a nominal number to provide the target customers with a taste of what they should expect from your company. This is not only a great way to promote your product, but also, it helps you gather  feedback for future product development. Gathering insights from a minimum value product is inexpensive and costs less than developing and launching the final product with more features and at a larger scale, which increases investment cost and risk of monetary loss in case the product fails.

  1. Survey.

Surveys are another important tool of gathering mass feedback in an inexpensive way and in a short period of time from people who come from vastly different stratas of the society. Dedicated survey websites are always helpful in gathering feedback. They are simple, easy to use and not time consuming at all. And many offer incentives too. So, people don’t mind participating. This is another great way to gauge needs, interest, and gaps in specific industries.

  1. Mentor Validation

Time and experience hold a lot of worth when it comes to start-ups. There are very high chances that you’re not the first person to blaze the trail of start-ups. There have been many more before you who have dared, erred and learned. There are always going to be people whose knowledge and experience go beyond yours. Networking comes into play here – interact with them, don’t afraid to ask questions, gather as much information as possible. This helps you to establish important contacts in the industry who might help you when you need guidance or help in the future.

  1. Trusting your gut.

Any new endeavour is bound to make you nervous of all the unforeseeable circumstances. But the important part is not being afraid of failures and hardships and moving forward. Your closest friend to keep you company in this journey is your sense of intuition. At the end of the day, do what your intuition says and follow your gut. Everything else will fall into place.

Ashish Mittal is Chief  Mentor and Founder of TurningIdeas Ventures, a startup Incubator based in Noida. You can follow him at @ashishmitt

10 Steps to Bootstrapping a Startup

10 Steps to Bootstrapping a Startup

Starting up cannot be a flash in the pan. There are many impediments in the way of an an entrepreneur from converting his idea into a successful business. Capital, market research, finding a niche, identifying a team are some of them. Here are 10 steps that can help an entrepreneur bootstrap a startup and provide structure to the process.

Step 1: Ignite your passion: Bootstrapping a startup does not start with great ideas but with a passion to make a mark and solve real business issues. While an idea is very important to do a startup, the best ideas will fail if there is no passion to execute it. A startup needs a huge amount of personal sacrifice and an equal amount of hard work. There will be many days when a founder questions his move to be an entrepreneur and hence at such stages, passion is needed to carry on.

Step 2: Research your idea – Sometimes an idea should remain only an idea. This is the stage where a founder determines if his startup can grow to become a real business. Startup is not a charity and for a founder it is very important to determine if the idea solves a real problem, has an addressable market and people are willing to pay for it.

Step 3:  No Plan B: A founder has to realize that a startup is a full time job. Very often than not a startup where the founder is moonlighting fails to take off. A startup cannot be bootstrapped as a plan B where the founders have attempted to work on their startup idea part time while working on their full time job. Plan your startup by taking all things into considerations. Ideally, if a founder can have a year’s expense in savings, it provides a great cushion to execute the startup without having to fret.

Step 4:  Identifying the niche – Every idea must solve a problem in the society or provide utility. It is only when the product or service is really needed that someone is willing to pay for it and the business is sustainable. The entrepreneur needs to focus on specifics and pinpoint how his product or service would bring about change.  If an entrepreneur can find an underserved market or can solve a pain point for a category of people or business, it will serve as a sweet spot. It is, however, advisable that the entrepreneur targets a niche that he understands and provides a service or a product that he has knowledge about.

Step 5: Defining the market – Once the need is identified, it is important to define what constitutes the target audience. This can be done on age, gender, religion, interests, where they reside among a host of other factors. Every market is different and it is very important that the founder maps out every aspect of the target audience. The more specifics and narrow an entrepreneur can get in terms of defining the market, the better are the chances of the startup succeeding.

Step 6 : Getting the right team : A founder cannot do a startup alone. Every entrepreneur needs a team to execute the idea and sometimes finding the right team is more important than a brilliant idea. The best laid plans can come to naught if the team behind it is not right. A founder should look for people who can compliment his skill sets so that all bases are covered.  

Step 7: Creating your first prototype – Whatever may be the nature of the startup it is very important to get a working prototype of the key elements. This will be the starting point for the founder from which he can look to improve his product or services. A prototype is very important also because one does not want to incur huge expenses by building the final version and later finding flaws in it. Even in terms of raising money, investors always want to see a working prototype.

Step 8:  Finding your first unpaid customers – Unpaid customers are needed primarily for two reasons. The first being once you have a final version of your product or service ready, the real feedback comes from your customers. Unpaid customers can be a great source of feedback where you get to know the good and the bad about your product or service and hopefully iron out the bad ones. Unpaid customers are more tolerant since they are not spending anything and if your product or service is great, they can also be a very good source of word of mouth advertisement.

Step 9: Prepare to scale – Many startups fail to scale, primarily because they have not planned for it. In its infancy, things are easier to manage for a startup, but teething problems begin when a startup grows bigger and starts addressing the higher volume of clients or consumers. A founder should plan out his execution strategies for scaling up – monthly, quarterly and even yearly. This way he ensured the customer experience is never compromised.

Step 10: Go to market – Timing is the key when launching a product or service. Founders are under tremendous pressure to quickly roll out their services and products, but what is important to understand is that one has to be ready for it. From your marketing to servicing to hiring, all bases have to be covered. More importantly, if an entrepreneur has found the prototype is not having the desired outcome, it only means he is not ready to go to market yet.

8 steps to convert your startup idea into a product/service

8 steps to convert your startup idea into a product/service

With the paradigm of world economics and commerce shifting towards the new generation of innovators with impressive success-stories- more and more people are coming up with increasingly brilliant startup ideas every day. Every aspiring entrepreneur dreams of his/her startup becoming the next big thing. But only those entrepreneurs have the potential to stand out from the rest of the crowd who have the willingness, motivation, and strategy to turn their ideas into reality.

They say a good beginning is a job half done. It applies to startups too. A major step of executing a plan is its kickstart. But that’s not all there is to it. Once you have put the plan into motion, you have to ensure all the wheels are getting oiled regularly. It’s your job to make sure that every hiccup is accounted for and everything is running smoothly.

Let us take a good look at 8 important steps that will help you achieve the task of turning your startup idea into a product or a service.

1.Doing your market research

Conducting market research is an important step towards determining whether your startup idea is worthwhile the effort or not. Market research includes identifying the problem, ensuring that there is a significant amount of population who agree that the problem really does exist-these people are your future customers, devising the product or the service you are planning to launch as a part of your solution, estimating the capital investment, the product/service cost, analyzing your potential competitors etc. Doing an in-depth market research helps you gauge the situation and plan ahead accordingly.

  1.  Ensuring the means

After researching the market and having a satisfactory estimate of all the requirements that’d go into building your product, the next step is to gather all the requirements. You need to ensure you have enough financial resources so that you’ll be able to invest in the startup. You might also consider applying for a loan in the bank or approaching an individual who can partner-up with you. The second important requirement is intellectual property rights. Intellectual property (IP) refers to the process by which an individual or company can own the rights to a created product, e.g. patents, copyright, and trademarks. Availing the IPRs can be beneficial for your company in the long term and help you avoid any unnecessary lawsuit.

  1. Hiring a good team

A startup is a big responsibility and a one-man army building an entire company is usually something out of a fairytale. The talent and hard work of multiple people go into building a startup. It is a collective effort. Therefore it is very important to hire a talented and trustworthy team to whom you can delegate work. The quality of the team that you are hiring will have a direct implication on the quality of the product that is ultimately getting built and launched into the market. Therefore, this task must be performed meticulously by the entrepreneur themselves with utmost care.

  1. Defining product specification

With the help of your entire team and co-founder, you can start the next step which is – zooming in on the specifications of your product. It is impossible to build a product unless you know everything about it, up until the very last detail. The measurements, ingredients, quality, packaging are some of the important specifications that the entrepreneur and their team must look into while they are designing a product. But the specifications don’t end here. They go much beyond and deeper than that. Accurately estimating the product estimation has a direct impact on whether your product is going to meet the government standards and will be allowed to launch in the market or not. The product also has to align with the taste of the customers who are being targeted. Therefore a lot of thought needs to be put into product specification.

  1.  Building the Product

After you’ve ensured that every requirement is accounted for, you may start building the actual product. Building a product that delivers what it has promised to the customers is a huge responsibility that will decide the fate of your company’s future. Therefore, the process must be meticulously organized and the plan must be acutely executed. The team must keep all of the needs of the user in mind as they create the product.

  1. Creating a minimal viable product

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just the basic, essential features. It is launched at a nominal number to provide the target customers with a taste of what they should expect from your company. This is not only a great way to promote your product, but also, it helps you gather feedback for future product development. Gathering insights from a minimum value product is inexpensive and costs less than developing and launching the final product with more features and at a larger scale, which increases investment cost and risk of monetary loss in case the product fails.

  1. Testing with a pilot customer

Launching the first batch of your final product at a commercial scale can be a huge market risk. Even after accounting for all potential hiccups and gathering feedback via surveys and MVPs, the risk remains. Therefore, a great idea to warm up towards finally launching your product at a commercial level is arranging a pilot customer who can use/experience your product and provide you with honest feedback. The feedback provided to you by a pilot customer is more important than any prior feedback/survey because the product is now in its final form and any feedback to the final form of the product will only be aimed towards fine-tuning it instead of introducing any last-minute major changes. After any required fine-tuning, based on the feedback of the pilot customer, the product can be launched in the market.

8. Creating a brand

A startup is so much more than just identifying a problem and providing a solution. A significant number of people may agree to the problem but they may not necessarily be inclined towards buying the solution that you are building, This is where branding steps in. Branding goes beyond creating a logo or a social media page. It helps create an image of your product in the relevant market. It enables people to identify the product to its source, thus building a sense of truth in them. It helps you reach out to your customer, form a bond with them and ultimately convince them that you’re product or service will indeed help them fight the problem which they are facing. Branding also paves the way for your company to launch any new range of product in the future thus making it a very significant part of the entire process of turning your startup idea into a product/service.

7 Ways to Market your Product/Service

 7 Ways to Market your Product/Service

Marketing is an important aspect for all business endeavours, but it’s even more important for startups. When you are at the initial stage of your startup, you are struggling to create an image of your company. Unless people know about the values of your startup and what it promises to offer, no bond will form with the customers.

Marketing strategies help you reach out to your customers, it helps you mark your presence in your customers’ lives. In turn, more and more people start knowing about your company and your startup flourishes. But since startups thrive on limited budgets, it’s not always possible for the endeavour to invest large amounts of cash in advertisement campaigns.

The following 7 steps are some ways you could market your  products and services even on a low budget :

  1. Email Marketing

Email marketing is an effective way to attract a customer base for your startup product or service. Besides being effective, it is also inexpensive and requires little effort. First, you need to create a subscriber list by collecting  the email addresses of all the prospective customers. Email-Id can be collected by asking people to sign-up to your company’s website and subscribe for updates / newsletters and other communication, or you can ask the prospects in return of knowledge such as white paper / reports etc.

Your mailer content should contain quality information which will be useful for your prospect and worth their time. Avoid filling up the mails with excessive product details, self-appraisals and advertisements.

  1. Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of those little-known gems in the world of marketing strategies for startups. Producing quality content regularly and religiously is an extremely effective way to build authority over a given topic or search term.Please note the terms regularly and religiously.

Good relevant content build authority of startup product or service on internet and regular updates build freshness hence driving better ranking on search engines. To produce quality content, you can use various mediums like blogs or even LinkedIn. It builds the credibility of your company by educating and empowering the readers. Being guest-writers on other people’s established blogs also helps. Your aim should be producing content that is worth your reader’s time and attention, which will help you garner trust for your own startup.

  1. Social Media Marketing

As per the current scenario, social media has been intricately incorporated in people’s lives. It is our first interaction of the day with the outside world. Therefore, using social media platforms to reach out to a large and ever-growing customer base is extremely important.  A robust and prominent social media presence of your company helps it gain recognition among people. To build a strong social media profile, you need to ensure that your posts are relevant to your product/services. The customers should find the posts relatable and engaging at the same time. Social media platforms also give you an opportunity to interact with your customers via texts and comments. This helps you form a bond with your target customers.

  1. Hosting and Sponsoring Events

Networking events are meant for meeting new people, building connections and reaching out to potential clients. They provide a healthy environment for networking and interaction of like-minded individuals who are looking forward to doing business with promising companies. You can initiate and expand your talent hunt by taking the time to speak at such events and meetups. Speaking engagements are great opportunities to promote your company’s vision and goals to potential customers and help your startup grow.

  1.  Receiving Publicity

Receiving good publicity is an amazing strategy to get your startup noticed by new customers and help more people discover your product. This can be done by taking help of bloggers or social media influencers whose work is relevant to your product or service. Sending them personal email is one approach. You can also arrange for meetings to talk about the values and motive of your startup to the individuals in person. This approach is definitely more effective than email correspondence. If they agree to promote your product on their blog/channel, the probability of their loyal follower base trying out your products increases.

  1. Word-Of-Mouth

Word-Of-Mouth is one of the most underrated and yet the surprisingly effect marketing strategy. This requires you to build stronger relationships with influential customers to ensure that they refer to your company’s products or services to people who might ask for their suggestions. This method is free-of-cost. The only effort it needs is to take special care of certain clients who may give good recommendations about your startups to future, potential customers.

  1. Customer reviews

Customer reviews are often a neglected aspect of marketing your product. But it is actually very important. When a potential customer is thinking about investing in your product or a service, they usually take help of various websites to check for customer reviews. The customer will proceed with the investment only if a majority of the reviews are positive. Getting good customer review requires no extra effort. It is a part of your company’s agenda – to ensure customer satisfaction. Unhappy customers leave bad reviews, which impact your future sales. A satisfied and happy customer is likely to do business again with your company. Additionally,  their good reviews online will attract new customers.

5 tricks to manage startup operations

A startup with a well managed set of operations helps you gain command over it. Managing various operations of your startup is a detrimental aspect for the overall growth of your company. Meticulous handling of startup operations helps you ensure a steady increase in the productivity and customer relations. It helps you track your progress, losses , growth and future target – thus helping you strategize future approach to perform better. Therefore, it is very important that you keep an agile eye on how well are you managing the operations of your startup.

Here are 5 tricks which will help you strategize the management of your startup to gain command over it :

1. Control your expenses.

Never shy away from consolidating expenses and  negotiating for better prices with your dealers and suppliers. This will help you save a lot of capital which can be invested  in other important areas. Cutting unnecessary expenses not only saves money but lessens the responsibility on your shoulder too. Once you’ve negotiated initial prices for the first few batches of product, ensure that you keep on renegotiating frequently. This allows you to demand better pricing from your dealers and suppliers

2. Know every detail.

Having a knowledge of the precise details of your company is an example of meticulous business management. Possessing this knowledge is especially important for balancing the cash flow. Keep a track of all the digits involved in the finance operation and get the details right. Take help of your team and ensure that they are keeping the correct and authentic record of every transaction. This will help you keep a track of the productivity growth of the company and help you strategize further.

  1. Train your Employees.

As compared to large companies, startups have a smaller team comprising of a fewer number of employees. This means you can give each employee a larger portion of your time and attention. Being actively involved and concerned about your employee’s skill growth through a series of workshops, mentorship and training programs will in turn benefit your company. You should be as involved as the HR of your company during the hiring process.  Gain a knowledge about their competencies, experiences, and other relevant skills that can make them eligible for the position in your company.

4. Using Technology Smartly

Technology is a pioneer when it comes to the startup culture. Technological advancements in the past era lead to the emerging of a different kind of business which is innovative and forward looking.  And as more technology got introduced to the markets, the startup culture evolved. As an entrepreneur, you should be welcoming towards new technologies that are introduced to the market everyday. Use them personally to get an idea of whether or not they’ll be truly helpful for your company. Any technology that makes the work easier for your team and helps them perform better, should be used.

  1. Secure Your Sensitive Data.

Startups are not as sophisticated as large companies. Therefore, their business structure is often quite amateur and loose. This makes them extremely vulnerable to data hacks and malware attacks.  Moreover, since startups have limited financial resources, few can afford to invest in high-end data backups, anti-malware protection, and 24/7 cyber security protection services. If you don’t have the budget for cyber security, ensure that you strictly follow proper safety protocols to prevent leakage of data and data-theft. Make sure that your team changes their passwords regularly, dispose off physical and digital versions of of any data appropriately use a Firewall, etc.