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Start Here: a book for entrepreneurs by Roger Norton [Part 2]

In part one of our coverage of the entrepreneurial book, Start Here: A Quick Guide to Building Startups, we spoke to author Roger Norton about his work. Norton was also kind enough to allow us to publish an extract from the book as well.

As mentioned in the previous piece, it’s not often that entrepreneurs write books based on their experiences. Norton has done just that with Start Here, which lists the steps that entrepreneurs need to follow in order to take their idea to a business.

Over the years, Norton has founded two startups, worked with 10 others, and has been involved with the Silicon Cape Initiative. He currently heads up startup studio Playlogix.

Here is the next and final extract of Start Here, which is taken from the book’s second chapter.

Step 2: Go talk to people

One of the most important steps, but also the one that gets left out the most often, is actually validating your idea. This means getting feedback from potential customers as early and often as possible.

That means now. Before you’ve spent any money and before you have a solid idea of what you think you’ll be doing. Go and talk to people — today!

Think about who has the problem that you’re trying to solve. Are there different groups or segments? Are there different use cases? Jot down a couple of ideas and go and find those people.

You want to ask them:

1. Do they have this problem?
2. How are they currently solving it?
3. If they had a magic wand, how would they solve it?
4. Would they use your solution if it did X (or Y or Z)?

Listen to their answers. Them talking is more important than you talking. The answer to the first question should always be “yes”. If they can’t answer question two and aren’t currently solving the problem some other way (manually, using another service or work around) then it’s not a big enough problem. Go back and start again. If it’s a real pain point they’ll be solving it somehow. If they can get by without it being solved, then you need to find another problem.

This is what is called looking for a painkiller (a solution that they cannot live without) as opposed to a vitamin (a nice-to-have). I dig into this deeper in the chapter on ‘Red Flags’.

Feedback from family and friends may be interesting but is ultimately not very useful. This is because they’re likely not your ideal target market and even if they are, they’re more likely to tell you what they think you want to hear. Either way it’s biased feedback and should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s significantly better to get feedback from strangers. It also helps to make your questions very direct and as pointed as possible so that they can be honest without trying to avoid hurting your feelings. Quality feedback can be good or bad, but it must be honest.

Go and talk to at least twenty customers, ideally fifty. (If you can’t find fifty potential customers, it’s worth asking whether or not you have the basis on which to build a business.) Get out of the building. Get some feedback and make sure to write it all down. Review the problem that you’re trying to solve and think of other possible ways to solve it. Alternatively, think of other people who might need a solution to this problem. All this input will be invaluable when you start to build something. These early notes are great for future features to test and often help you articulate your messaging and marketing to meet the customers’ needs.

The bonus of talking to strangers is to see if you can actually make pre-orders from potential customers. If you can get them to commit to, or actually give you money before you deliver on it (without lying), then it’s the best kind of validation that you’re solving a real problem. Getting their contact details to follow up with them when you do launch is the next best outcome.

Take notes of everything that they say, but remember that the customer is not always right, particularly when they can’t see the solution clearly enough. The purpose at this stage is to get an idea of the environment and the nature of your customers’ problems. Be very aware that if you don’t get any positive responses or no meaningful feedback, you’re probably on the wrong track. If people aren’t interested enough before you’ve built anything, then you’ve got a long uphill battle ahead of you. Better be honest with yourself and try a different tactic or asking different questions.

Don’t proceed until you have clear evidence that there is interest in what you’re building!

Start Here: A quick guide to building tech startups is available as an ePub, PDB, Mobi, and app from Leanpub here.

Author Bio

Graham van der Made: Editor
Graham started out as an electronics manager at Take2 Home Entertainment and went on to spend a further ten years in the South African ecommerce industry. During this time, Graham founded and managed an online geek and hobby shop. He has always had a passion for writing and has... More

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