In our first installment of Lessons from Startup Culture, we examined the importance of building a solution, not a product. What’s the difference? Many smart people have exciting ideas for new products but fail to consider whether there is a market need for that idea. In fact, 42% of startups fail because of a lack of market need for their flagship product, CB Insights reports.
A solution, on the other hand, is created based on need: entrepreneurs identify a problem that real people have and build a solution that those people will pay to implement. Here is where one of the most brilliant facets of startup culture comes into play. With limited funding and a short runway to validate their ideas, many companies begin their journey by creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Continue Reading
No one makes decisions alone. Especially in this technologically interconnected age, we are beholden to the interests and opinions of many groups of people: consumers, investors, brand enthusiasts, industry influencers… the list goes on. Each has a distinct point of view, an interest in the outcomes of our decisions, and often an investment of time, money, interest, and even reputation on the line.
When so many parties are stakeholders in the choices made by companies, brands, or influencers, how can we be certain that we are meeting the demands of our many constituent groups? How can we capture and consider the interests of our stakeholders? Enter Stakeholder Analysis – the process by which an organization can analyze the priorities and interests of various parties involved in a project or decision in order to create understanding and build consensus. Continue Reading
In the world of high-profile brands, there are many success stories that we return to again and again. Steve Jobs and the creation of the Apple brand – Tesla’s Elon Musk – Richard Branson and his serial entrepreneurial success – Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Other brands don’t get as much attention. This bias is so ingrained that we sometimes overlook brands that might have a lot to teach us.
I originally hesitated to write about Zumba, the global fitness brand that continues to explode in popularity despite a lack of attention from the business community. But to dismiss the brand is to fail to notice how deeply and brilliantly it has tapped into evolving trends in the fitness (and music) world and how innovative its founders’ approach to growing their brand truly is. What makes Zumba work and what can its success teach us about building our own brands? Continue Reading
Innovators and startups take many different paths on their journey from idea to execution. As a founder of SparkLabKC, an accelerator program in Kansas City, MO, I was privileged to witness many of the ways in which scrappy startup founders pursued funding. These entrepreneurs, driven by their unique vision for the future, work tirelessly to share that vision with the rest of us.
Of course, they can’t do it without funding. While the current investment climate makes it possible for many young companies to achieve the dream of landing venture capital or other major investments, not all startups are in a position to avail themselves of traditional methods. Where can they turn? Continue Reading
There are many schools of thought about what creates and sustains brand loyalty (that is, a consumer’s preference for one particular brand over another in the same market space). These range from practical matters of convenience to complex and interwoven psychological factors. In the age of social media, we often hear that “engagement” in an ongoing dialogue with a brand is what creates loyalty. Other marketers swear by the psychology of color in creating consumer preferences.
The reality is much more nuanced than either of these approaches indicate, of course. The deeper drivers of connection with a brand are more subtle than memorable packaging, a brilliant logo, or a witty Twitter mascot. New and growing brands that leverage these underlying factors to connect with customers can elevate their position in consumer consciousness and reap the rewards of brand loyalty and evangelism. Continue Reading
The online mattress brand Casper has emerged over the last two years as a force in social media marketing, disrupting the department store mattress racket and building its success on an unlikely target market. Casper’s novel approach bears examination; their path to market, product development, and audience outreach each contain valuable lessons for today’s entrepreneurs. Continue Reading
I recently read an inspirational, deeply honest commencement address that has really stuck with me in a way that few such speeches do. It was delivered at the graduation ceremony at the University of Illinois in May by a man named Jeff Huber, a lifelong entrepreneur who previously worked at eBay and Google and is now the CEO of a company called GRAIL. I believe it contains an important message of hope and also a challenge for those of us who consider ourselves to be innovators.
Huber uses stories from his own life to reveal a larger experience and exhort these young graduates (and, by extension, all of us who hear or read his words) to “find a better way.” His speech still resonates with me weeks later, and I’d like to share some of the thoughts it has stirred with you. Continue Reading
Failure is a fact of life. While some people prefer to gloss over that reality, I would rather embrace it. In any endeavor we undertake, no matter how successful it ultimately proves, we will fail in some small way. That’s a deeply humanizing truth, and while it may seem pessimistic, our failures (small or large) often hold the key to our success. If we can learn from our mistakes, we emerge stronger, smarter, and more resilient.
I’ve written previously about what we can learn from products that failed, and even highlighted a few prime examples of major missteps from some of the most successful companies in the world. While major corporations often experience failure, it’s an even greater specter in the startup world. Passionate entrepreneurs are launching innovative new ventures every day despite the fact that 90% of startups fail, as Neil Patel recently reminded us in Forbes. Thankfully, this harsh truth conceals a silver lining. Continue Reading
You're almost across the finish line! If you've tuned into the previous installments of our “Yea or Nay” series, we have discussed strategies surrounding vetting your idea and building your initial team. Now it's time for the final step: building your minimum viable product.
The idea of an MVP was introduced to the world by Eric Ries, a Silicone Valley entrepreneur and Yale graduate, around 2008. As its name would indicate, the idea is simple. In his blog Startup Lessons Learned, Ries explains the idea of MVP as this,
“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
In other words, the minimum viable product is another crucial step in what I believe is the most vital key to business success: extracting as much customer feedback as possible. As N. Taylor Thompson of the Harvard Business review writes,
“In creating a minimum viable product, entrepreneurs choose between experiements that can validate or invalidate their assumptions about a business model. If your MVP is a worse product than your imagined final version, success validates your idea; failure, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily invalidate it. If your MVP offers a better experience, then failure invalidates your business model; success doesn’t necessarily validate it.”
If you're racing to the finish line of startup success, here are some simple steps for building your MVP and determining whether or not your startup approach is valid.
As your business begins to grow and your customer segments begin to expand, you’ll have to start addressing the idea of customer feedback and all the complexities that accompany it. From my experience, you’ll learn two things immediately:
There are many great tools to use to create customer feedback surveys.
Using these tools to create meaningful surveys can be extremely challenging.
Most entrepreneurs discover this the hard way. Hours of valuable time are wasted creating surveys filled with ineffective and confusing questions. For some reason, customer feedback surveys have become a “trial-by-fire” learning process for most new entrepreneurs. And while “trial-by-fire” may sound note-worthy, it is wholly unnecessary and a waste of valuable time and money.
We’re here to help you skip this arduous process, breeze through the fire, and ensure you are capturing a clearer understanding of your customers' experiences and your company as a whole.