Follow Along

  • Learning From Your Product Before It’s Built

    by on January 10, 2012

    (Cary Betagole wrote in to tell us about early lessons learned building a startup with partner Jonathan Kriner)

    My business partner Jonathan Kriner and I are newly minted startup entrepreneurs. We first embarked on our startup journey with a polished business plan in hand and fantasies of angel investments during the idea stage. Unsurprisingly, this way of thinking has been deemed unrealistic by established entrepreneurs, intellectual property lawyers, chief technology officers and accountants. So in the past few months, we’ve leaned down our approach, taken incremental steps toward making our idea a physical reality, and in the meantime, discovered ways to begin learning about our user’s needs right away.

    First off, the notion that we would receive funding in the idea stage was not only unfeasible, but not in our best interest. Investors are more interested in putting their money behind a team they believe in than an ‘idea.’ The life of a startup presents endless chances to ‘pivot or persevere’, so while the idea is ever changing, the founding team is one of the few constants.

    The question has become: how can we conjure up some sort of demo or physical representation of the idea, begin testing it on a user community, and demonstrate to investors that there’s value?

    While we’re still in the process of assembling a team to construct a demo, we’ve been able to use wireframes, mock-ups and an animated video to make contact with our potential users and begin learning where our product’s value lies, and where we need to make changes.

    At first, Jonathan and I decided the best option would be to use sites like Craigslist, Elance and oDesk to seek out a CTO as a cofounder. We received over 100 responses, including a few from well-qualified programmers. But none were very impressed with our compensation package—a share of the equity and the rights to the third bedroom in our house.

    Though a stiff market has thus far precluded us from finding our tech cofounder, our online ads have put us in touch with over 100 potential users, from bands to graphic designers, A&R guys and booking agents to recording studios. And we’ve made the best of it.

    Among those who reached out, we met up with an animator named Jay O’Meara (http://www.toomuchmetal.net/), who is creating the tutorial video on how to use the site. We’ve also met bands and industry professionals, who have helped us begin booking shows in our basement venue.

    We have been able to use wireframes and mock-ups of the site—put together by our incredibly talented Creative Designer, Kelsey Jones (http://klcjones.com/)—to begin the process of validated learning, even before the release of our first official minimum viable product. By explaining the fundamental value proposition, and basic functionality, we’ve been able to maneuver our vision to fit the needs of our users.

    Developing a minimum viable product means having the courage to test your assumptions now rather than later, and it means having the humility to listen to what your users want.

    We came to realize through our meetings that musicians seem particularly interested in the market research elements of our site, and the way they allow bands to learn more about the identities and desires of their fans. In turn, we’ve begun developing additional market research metrics for our Alpha, in the hopes that we can split-test at least 13 or 14 to discover which are most useful.

    Alex Markovitz, keyboard player and vocalist for a cool new band called The Day Life (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thedaylife/the-day-life-album), explained to us that the measure of his band is not how much music they sell, but how many true fans they have. His band seemed higher on playing house shows than formal venue shows, because they can gig more and have more personal contact with old and new fans alike. As a result, we’ve tailored our project-planning platform to gauge community support, in order to guarantee a better degree of certainty in an event’s eventual success.

    Usability experts and tech entrepreneurs have stressed the importance of a slimmed down demo that tests initial assumptions, first and foremost, without the clutter of additional features.

    We think the learning we do now will help make our cycles of validated learning even more productive once our demo makes it to the Beta test phase. Of course, we need that day to come sooner, rather than later.

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