Startup Series: Episode 1
The distant memory that is my last post is not due to me forgetting about this beautiful little bog. I am in the process of starting a new company and, between that and my thesis work, I have not had much time to work on new posts. But alas I am back – and with an exciting new series that chronicles my journey through the thrilling roller coaster that is the start-up experience!
I have some planned episodes (including this one) and have reserved room for additional episodes as time, and challenges, go by. This series will address issues, main concepts, and directions that I have encountered while running my start-up. Also, for those who are interested, my new company is called R-Gauge Metrics Inc.
Along the way I will try provide some reading material that has helped me with my company. Maybe they will help with yours also.
All-righty then! Lets get started!
Episode 1: Inception
Inception: The establishment or starting point of something; the beginning.
I, and I’m sure you have too, have met some people while cruising through life who were extra-keen on starting their own company. This is usually exciting for me and I love to see such motivated individuals strive towards their goals. However, upon further inquiry, I sometimes notice that the person just wants to start their own company for the sake of starting their own company. Their drive is strong and their intentions are good, but without a clear problem to solve, or product to sell, they more resemble the captain of a ship that leaves harbour without a destination to go to: They are more likely to get lost and find trouble.
Introduce the idea. The idea is just that. It is your direction – your purpose. A business does not progress unless it has some goal to progress towards, and, no, making lots of money is not a satisfactory goal to launch a business (although we all hope that we will be able to make lots – we will need something more concrete).
For me, my idea started more than a year ago, and its form was very different than the form I eventually ran with. The original idea was quite simple. I thought many companies were not handling their online reputation well and I thought that I could help them with damage control and bad reputation mitigation. I cited the BP oil spill as an example to my friends while trying to convince them that this idea was the best thing ever:
“Just think. Some company, like BP, has a huge reputation drop due to them doing something – like spilling millions of gallons into the ocean. Now whenever I Google ‘BP’ I get all that bad reputation on the front page: bad for business. What if I was able to provide consulting and help mitigate their online reputation damage.”
It sounded good. I started doing my market research and also looked into who else was working in this industry. Turns out that there were quite a few people who thought the same as I did.
My peers were skeptical. It seemed like a lot of manual work that would only succeed if I did all the work myself (Not really automatable). Not scalable at all. I would only be able to take on as many clients as I could handle myself – or hire lots of people to handle the clients for me.
I decided more discussion and bouncing ideas off of people was in order. I did this for almost six months before the notion hit me: All these sites assume that you know what your reputation is like! How do you quantify it? If I know exactly what it is, I can compare reputations!
It took another six months to generate a rough prototype to see if this was actually possible. Turns out it was! I was on my way!
The key lesson I learned here was quite simple: Really spend the time to understand the problem that you are trying to solve and make sure that people care about solving that particular problem. Understand what your goals are and make sure to express what the value of your solution is in terms of your client: why should your client care in other words. Also, note that the idea is malleable. It can change to what the customers actually want. It doesn’t help to make the best product in the world if nobody wants it.
How do you know if people will use a solution to that particular problem? Well, you could ask them. The simple solution is usually the easiest. In my case, I asked anyone who owned a company or was in mid-to-upper management of any company I could find. I asked them if they would be interested in a tool like mine and carefully listened to their responses.
Things were looking really good. I felt that I had a great product that was relevant to people in my target market. They seemed quite interested in it. It was time to look into this whole “starting a company” thing.