The Next 4 Things Every Startup Team Should Do

So you’re past the first ten seconds of your new venture. Now it’s time to clarify what you’re actually doing. Here’s what to do next:

1. Translate the problem you’re solving into a mission statement

Rather than saying “young people and businesses in our neighborhoods are suffering from a lack of technology education,” say “Our mission is to help our neighborhoods thrive by extending the benefits of technology to those who need them.” Write this down.

2. Define your customer

Make this nice and narrow. “Our customer is the owner of a retail, restaurant, or service business with a storefront on a major street in Dorchester.” Write this down.

Make a preliminary list of twenty potential customers that fit your description. Write this down.

3. Settle on a Problem-Solution hypothesis

This is about stating the problem as experienced by those for whom you are creating economic value. It should include the words “WILL PAY” in it. As in: “Local businesses in Dorchester WILL PAY for technology services from neighborhood teens and young adults.” Write this down.

The purpose of this hypothesis is not to get it perfect, but to give you something to test. If you can’t test it, it doesn’t count. Change it until it’s testable.

NOTE ON TWO-SIDED MODELS

Two-sided business models MUST have a ‘will pay’ side, even if the other side isn’t expected to pay. Since each side is dependent on the presence of the other, both sides need to be validated *as if* the other side already exists. The best way to tackle a two-sided model is to go after one side at a time: offer them something of value you can deliver *without* the other side of your model being in place. Once you’ve got enough of side 1 on board you can pull the trigger on side 2.

NOTE ON SOCIAL VENTURES

If you can’t plausibly design a customer-problem hypothesis with the words WILL PAY for it, you’re doing something wrong. It’s tempting to say “we’ll get foundations and businesses to pay for all the good stuff we’re doing” – but if find yourself saying that you’re not designing a sustainable business model. Ventures that subsist solely on charitable feelings from donors are by definition unsustainable. At best charity is a source of seed capital to get your venture running on its own. (See Jason Saul’s The End of Fundraising for more on this).

4. Create a low-risk plan to test your hypothesis

This is a specific, actionable plan that will test some aspect of your customer-problem hypothesis. As in “We’re going to hand out flyers to every small business we can reach, advertising a list of technology services at a discounted rate. We’ll measure results by businesses that give us an email address on our website, send us email, or call our phone number.” Write this down.

In case you missed it, it’s critical to WRITE THIS ALL DOWN! Print your answers in big letters and tape it to a wall or put it on your website. It will help your team stay focused.

Don’t over-think any of this! It *will* be wrong, so pick something and go TEST it. Keep your tests FAST AND CHEAP and GET IN YOUR CUSTOMERS HEAD!

BONUS ADVICE: Team Dynamics

Your team has been together for a little while. Here are some quick suggestions for working together:

Divide the work

Assign people or get volunteers for each task. Write down the to do list and set deadlines. Have each contributor circulate their work for comment and feedback and then choose something and call it done.

Keep the stakes low

Avoid passionate arguments. If disputes arise, settle them with data, not debate.

THE NEXT STEP?

RUN THOSE TESTS. Don’t do anything else. It’s all a distraction.

Michael Sattler

With a career spent in founding and technical leadership roles with new and enterprise-level organizations, Michael Sattler is a veteran in technology strategy, operations, and product management. He’s spent decades in B2B and B2C SaaS product development, software and application design, engineering operations, new venture creation, and innovation practices.

He has scaled and managed technical teams from 2-50+ across three continents, led large-scale cross-functional program management, and founded or co-founded six companies.