Cake or Death? How to intelligently load-test a startup idea
You have a Startup Idea. It’s a really good one. You daydream about it as you grind through Excel spreadsheets at your day job. You talk about pieces of it over beers with your friends.
But Ideas are a dime a dozen. How do you figure out if it’s a good one? One that you could leave your day job for? One that fulfills that yearn? This is how.
1. Who is your customer?
Generally, you are not your customer. You’re the person who had the idea; it’s your baby. Of course, it checks out as a great business if you’re your own customer. You need to find your real customers, the ones who would pay you money to solve their problems and reduce their pain. Once you’ve found them, figure out what they want. Talk to them by the dozens and hundreds. This customer discovery will help you articulate your Idea, discover what is truly valuable and unique about your Idea, and, if done well, provide you with your set of beta users.
If you can’t find any customers for your Idea, it might be DOA. Kill it.
2. What can you do for your customer?
This is where your Idea gains flesh and substance. You found customers who want it and they’ve articulated what they want. How does your Idea fit into their workstreams and lifestyles? What are the full lifecycle use cases? What’s your high-level product specification? What is your value proposition? This defines the very core of your business.
Now that you have identified customers and the Idea has flesh, where do you stand in your competitive position? Does somebody else already do this? Why does the market need you?
If it already exists, kill it. If it has a number of competitors and you aren’t differentiated enough for your customers to care, kill it.
3. How does your customer acquire your product?
Who actually makes the decision to acquire your product? Is it the parent on behalf of the child who sees the toy you built? Is it the VP of Engineering for the code tool? Determine who makes the actual decision to purchase and map the process to acquire a paying customer. Then map the sales process to acquire that customer.
4. How do you make money off your product?
Ideas are great, but for your Idea to work, it will need to make money. What’s your Idea’s business model? How does it make money? The two key things to calculate are: Lifetime Value (LTV) of an acquired customer and the cost of customer acquisition (COCA).
If it doesn’t make money, kill it. If it costs more to acquire the customer than the customer is worth, kill it.
5. How do you design and build your product?
Whoa, did you see how much work went into the Idea before anything was built? Ordering your steps in this fashion is key. It helps protect you from sinking time and resources into building something that no one wants. Your customers will tell you what’s worth building.
Define your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), that is, the smallest complete product your customers will pay for. Recall that beta group of interested customers from your customer discovery? They’re a great group to launch to because they like your idea already and perhaps even told you that they’d pay for it. Now is the time to test that assumption. The best proof that the Idea works is someone paying for it.
If no one will pay for it: First, how’d you get this far? Second, kill it.
6. How do you scale your business?
You have paying customers and a bare-bones version of the Idea you provide. How do you scale this to something worthwhile? Develop your product plan in concert with your customers. Build what they want and accumulate more paying users. This could mean squashing bugs in your MVP or developing new features as stack ranked by your customers (and business constraints), it could even mean branching out from your core MVP and adding adjacent products, but this roadmap will always apply.
If you’ve found this useful, certainly check out Bill Aulet’s “Disciplined Entrepreneurship” where he breaks down this high-level checklist into deep, actionable steps.
If you're interested in joining a group of peers who share best practices and collaborate to build new ones, get in touch!