How to Start a Startup is a multi-part series on the intricacies of creating, sustaining and dominating the startup sphere derived from Y Combinator’s Lecture Series

Welcome to Startup 101. In Part 3 of our series, we discussed some more things to know before taking your final jump. In this part, we will discuss how to build product and talk to users.

So you have an idea. How do you go from zero users to many users? When many startup entrepreneurs begin, they decide to build, build and build, tell only a few people, then launch on TechCrunch or a similar platform and somehow miraculously get lots of users.

But what really happens is that you get many people onto your site, but they don’t stick around to it – and that happens because you haven’t taken enough feedback to to make your product foolproof. Sure, if you have some money on your side, you can buy users by marketing through Facebook ads or Twitter ads but eventually the crowd will fizzle out and that is the sort of vicious cycle which gets very hard to break the shackles off from.

 

Be A Cog In The Industry

If you’re building a platform that solves a larger general problem, you can enable people in specific industries to use your product to build solutions for their personal pain points. That way, you can immerse yourself in a particular industry. You can do this by attempting to becoming a cog in the system – that is, become such an integral part of the cycle that the use of your product is paramount. However, as a newcomer into the industry you should ideally take a few months to just really understand what each nook and cranny of the industry is and how it works. That’s because only when you get into the details do you start seeing things that you can be exploiting and things that are really inefficient. So, this is like playing a tennis – you can read the game well and be an expert at it, but you will not be able to succeed in it unless you’ve trained to hit a fast serve enough. Therefore if you’re in a service industry product, it’s probably best to spend some time doing the service yourself. One more thing you can do is trying to get into the shoes of your customer so that you can see from every angle what you’re trying to build.

OK, here’s a secret  – you are allowed to be a little obsessed. Obsess over your competition and their performances, Obsess over what everyone in your space is doing. That way you’ll be on the top of your game, always.

 

Identifying Customer Segments

Every industry and their respective product has different customer segments. Of course, ideally you’d want every person in the marketplace to use your product, but a good way to get towards that goal is by cornering off a part of the customer base so you can efficiently optimize your product for them. Another good way to create a customer segment is to create a narrative for your brand. A top storyline helps give your brand an identity. This can aid in creating a customer segment as well.

 

Building And Test Your Product

In today’s day and age, product creators try to create a minimum viable product. It starts off with identifying that one feature that makes a difference. It is the smallest feature set that you should build to solve the problem that you’re trying to fix. This minimum feature set requires only building a functionality that is essential to creating the value you wish to provide to your customers. The idea is to learn through experimentation exactly what your customer needs, instead of getting lost in a sea of feature requests. Another important way of building your product is to have your product positioning down. You should be able to explain your product as, “Hey, this does A,B & C in one sentence.” This helps in making your product seem uncluttered and it resonates across to prospective customers. Come up with a one – liner that will act like your elevator pitch for the customer.

Once your product is ready, give it to your co-founders, friends and families to use. The best part of testing your product amongst friends and family is that you have less liability. In all seriousness, get onboard a group of friends and actively solicit feedback throughout the process. Beyond that, you’d want to get more feedback and online communities for developers are a good place to start, especially if your product is tech based.

 

Having A Feedback Mechanism

The first thing to do is to make sure there’s a channel for people to connect with you. Ideally your phone number and email should be available for feedback. Feedback can either come from customers or you can go out and take it yourself. The latter sounds like a slog, but that is how you are going to get the best feedback for your product and this is where it is going to teach you what features you need to completely change, what to add to get rid off and what more to build. This is all about building your industry expertise. And there’s nothing like a face-to-face conversation.

Another way is to send surveys or questionnaires to your users, which is a good option but often times you’d get a response only if they loved your product or hated it. You never get the in betweens and this is what we call “response bias”, a kind of statistical bias where you only hear from those who have an extreme feeling (either good or bad) about your product.

It is crucial to understand why your first adopters absolutely love your product because you can then concentrate your power on accentuating those features. Also, you should embrace the haters and their harsh criticism. Work diligently to fix the problems that they pointed out! It may be easy to just write them off as nut jobs, but they are likely pointing out flaws that (although most saw them as a minor annoyance) could actually impede your future growth. A way to get the in between and not all of the extremes is to actually meet the person that is using your product.

 

These tips and tricks help budding entrepreneurs understand what they’re getting into. In part 5, we will discuss in detail about user growth.

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