You have a great idea for a tech startup–let’s say it’s a killer app. But launching a successful early stage startup takes a lot more than a flash of genius. It requires a coherent, well-researched vision that allows you to execute on your big idea through a viable business plan.
We’ve worked with many startups at Atomic Robot, and we’ve found the best and brightest check these seven things off the to-do list before hiring developers or partnering with a mobile development firm like us.
1. Find a Mentor (or Two)
All your tech heroes have mentors, and many even assemble a personal board of advisors. So you’ll need to start down this path, too. You might pick a mentor who’s familiar with the often messy process of launching a startup. Or someone with inside knowledge of the industry you’re hoping to break into or disrupt.
Think of mentors as people who give you a broader perspective, one that challenges your thinking enough to move your big idea forward in a meaningful way.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a leader in your field of interest and ask him or her for advice. Most business leaders will be happy to share knowledge, and they can’t say yes if you don’t ask.
2. Join the Community
Good news: You don’t have to do any of this alone. Most major U.S. cities have Meetups and other events for the startup community.
Get involved, network and learn from your peers. You might find your next co-founder, investor or first hire. If you don’t live near a thriving startup community, find one online. We’re fans of Meetup.com, HackerNews and Lean Startup Circle.
Going from idea to funding to product to growth is a long journey. You’ll need a like-minded tribe to lift you up when you inevitably hit low points.
3. Build a Prototype (Your First MVP)
Be creative when it comes to your startup’s first minimum viable product (MVP). It’s unlikely to look like any of the flashy apps on your smartphone, and that’s OK. The only goal at this stage is to validate your idea. Does it solve a real problem? For real users?
Try testing out your ability to execute on your idea with a paper prototype. This might take the form of a process flow map for a manual business process or a spreadsheet that demonstrates a formula. Even a WordPress site can help you validate consumer interest. And apps like InVision even allow you to put together high fidelity design mockups.
Bottom line: There’s a lot of exploration and testing you can do before sinking a dime into software development. Make an MVP and start showing it to real people.
4. Establish Your Business
Yes, tech startups break rules, but that’s no excuse for skipping the basics. You need a legal business entity (LLC, corporation, etc.) and a name before you start pitching your idea. This helps you make a good first impression as you start shopping for mentors and funding.
It’s going to be hard for people to take you seriously if you’re emailing from a Hotmail or Yahoo! email account. Get a name, buy the domain and look professional. Registering a domain is cheap and there are services for creating a legal business entity online, and even services that can help pick a name.
5. Build a Launch Page
This is your first step as Chief Marketing Officer. (You’re a founder now. Better get used to wearing a lot of hats.) A launch page is a simple web page that teases your product or service. Share it far and wide and be sure to collect names and email addresses.
Your launch page serves two important purposes. First, it helps you validate market demand for your product. Second, you’re building up a marketing list for when you’re ready for beta testing and real-world feedback.
6. Make a Pitch Deck
A pitch deck helps sell your vision and business plan to other people: future investors, customers, business partners, employees and more. Plus, making one is an exercise that forces you to refine your big idea into a succinct message and high-level plan.
Your pitch deck demonstrates that you know your target customer, target market, projected operating and development costs, and existing competition. It’s also a good place to outline your growth strategy.
Not sure how to start your pitch deck? There are plenty of examples and templates online and even services for those who need help creating a professional slide deck.
7. Raise Funding
Software development is expensive, and talent is in high demand. It takes a good deal of money (think tens of thousands of dollars of seed funding to start) to build the first version of a robust app. And that’s before you factor in legal fees, marketing, operations, infrastructure and more.
It’s nearly impossible to make rational business decisions if you’re spending your retirement savings to develop an app. Fortunately, there are more options than ever for technology startups to raise funding, including crowdfunding, angel investors, accelerators and venture capital.
Roll up your sleeves and get comfortable asking for money. It’s a key skill for a startup founder.
From Excitement to Action
Investors and development firms hear new startup ideas almost every week. And, unfortunately, most of those ideas never go anywhere. If you want to be taken seriously–and have a shot at success–you need to dig in and start doing the real work of a founder.