Are you working in an early stage startup or planning on launching a startup in 2016?
November is the perfect time to start laying the foundations for a productive and profitable 2016. Here are 10 things you can do right now, in the last 2 months of 2015, to give your new online business the best chance of success next year.
1. Read what the startup marketing experts are saying
You’re reading this so I guess that is a good start (high five!). There are some well known people, and blogs, in the startup community that you MUST read. I’m an avid follower of these people and companies and find enormous value in what they write about digital marketing, SEO, startups and growth strategy.
Without users you don’t have a business so embrace what they preach and get reading.
- Neil Patel: This guy is incredible. He started Kissmetrics, Crazy Egg and QuickSprout. He also consults to the largest companies on the planet. His blog is full of digital marketing and growth insights.
- GrowthHackers: A community of online marketers bringing together the best content about growth and digital marketing in one central place
- Moz Blog: This is legendary. You’ll find posts from the most informed people on the planet about SEO and digital marketing here.
- 500 Startups Video: These videos are of some of the brightest and most successful startup people as well as people within to 500 Startups network. My favourite videos are Weapons of Mass Distribution
- The Launch Lab startup blog
2. Chat to your target audience
Get out of the building. You’ve heard it before. Speak to people in your target audience. Validating your startup idea is the most important thing you need to do right now. Failure to start this process early means you’ll waste time and money that you just don’t have.
If you are planning on launching a startup in 2016 start validating your concept right now. Speaking to friends and family about the idea is a good starting point but get out of your comfort zone. Go and speak to 50 people who are in your target audience and discuss the problems they have. You’ll quickly determine if your solution is a solution they’ll pay you for.
3. Write a Press release
This is a tactic used by Amazon before they start working on new products. Before you invest too much energy into your new product (it’s best to do this when you are at the back-of-a-napkin-stage) write a press release for your upcoming product. Imagine it is live. What would your press release say? Would it be enticing and make you want to buy the product? When Amazon answer ‘no’ to this question when they write early press releases they either go back and write the release again or if they can’t make it sound amazing they kill, or tweak, the idea.
Writing a press release early doesn’t mean you have to ever use it. It will however help you confirm the concept in your own mind and will help you focus on the key features of the product when developing it. Plus you might just find that your idea is a real turkey and you can trash it quickly and move onto another empire building idea.
I find preparing a pitch deck is one of the best ways, along with writing a press release, of really getting intimate with your startup idea. There’s an art, and format to creating a winning startup pitch deck , and if you can’t make it ’sizzle’ at this stage you are going to struggle.
Once you’ve got your deck prepared you need to get out of your comfort zone (again) and stand in front of an audience and present your deck. There are pitching competitions in all the major cities in Australia (and cities around the world) on a regular basis and they attract decent crowds and good judging panels. It’s not only a good form of marketing but you’ll get to meet other startup founders and investors and you’ll get feedback and advice on your product from some of the smartest startup people.
If you’re a little unsure of how to pitch a startup then go and watch a pitching event. I work in a co-working space in Sydney where there is a pitch event on the last Friday of each month. The event attracts anywhere from 30 - 80 people and the judges I’ve seen so far this year include leading Venture Capitalists, Angel Investors, Seed Investors, successful founders and more.
Don’t be scared, remember to ditch the NDA (see #7 below) and pitch at every opportunity in the early days. There aren’t many people who enjoy pitching but it is essential.
5. Smoke test
If you are launching in 2016 then start a startup smoke test as soon as possible. It will help you validate your product and will also help you test potential marketing channels with only a small investment.
6. Find Partners
If you are starting up on your own then you need to start finding the right partners and suppliers and get them involved as early as possible. If you’re not a developer then you’ll need to start looking for startup web developers. If you are a web or app developer but need help with growth and distribution then start looking for startup marketers.
7. Ditch the NDA
Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Especially in the early stages, you need to be telling as many people about your idea as you can. Engage in conversations with them and get their feedback. Don’t hide behind a Non Disclosure Agreement or be fooled in to thinking that you need to keep the idea under wraps until you go live. That’s a recipe for failure.
Passion, hard work and the fact that you’ve spent more time thinking about your idea than other people you tell means you are way ahead of the game and you will beat them if they decided to copy your idea. Also remember that you will always have competition. Your passion for the problem you are solving and your ability to stay focused during the hard yards will do more than anything an NDA can do.
If you’ve never worked as an entrepreneur or in a tech startup before then I can’t recommend co-working highly enough. You’ll be surrounded every day by other startups. People who are going through what you are going through and people who have experienced it all before. You’ll get to learn from those around you and most co-working spaces host events and/or lunch-and-learns where you’ll find out about tech related things like growth hacking, devops, design, analytics and other skills that you’ll start to live and breathe as a startup.
Plus, many co-working spaces offer great discounts on startup products (hosting, Saas products etc) to their residents. In short, don’t work from home. The small cost of renting at a co-working space is a valuable investment.
Focus on your target audience and your idea. Don’t get distracted. Put all your energy in one direction. If the idea is proving to be a dud then move quickly to another idea, but focus on it. Block out all other distractions and ideas. Seriously, everything you do from now until the end of 2016 must be with a view to validating a great idea that solves a real problem. Everything else is a waste of time.
10. Quit your job
This is the most controversial on the list. Are you serious about your idea? Have you validated it? If you have and you believe in it then what is stopping you? Building a startup can be done while you are working but having the ability to focus 100% of your efforts on it will help you get ahead.
If you have a plan, a well thought out strategy, you know your development timelines (keep in mind the reality of software development timelines and the Ninety-ninety rule), you know your personal burn rate (i.e.: your monthly expenses) and you have enough runway (how many months until you run out of money) then make the jump. Back yourself. You can do it. 2016 could be your year.
Take risks. If you win, you’ll be happy; if you lose, you’ll be wise.