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Why is it so hard to build a startup? How do I make it easier?

I have worked on a startup off and on for the past 2 years. My previous startup shutdown when my engineers ran off as the money dwindled. Why is it so hard to build a startup? Why it such an arduous, complicated task? The simple answer is: Product-Market fit.

The definition of Product Market fit, from my perspective, means that you have created a business product that satisfies consumer demand. In essence, people want the crap you’re peddling. Why do they want it? Well, it scratches them where they itch. Something innate, most likely traced back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, has been realized in actuality.

Well that’s great, fantastic. How does one figure out whether their startup is going to succeed in achieving Product Market fit? Firstly, it starts with research. Examine your idea. Examine the competitive landscape you’re going to play in and do any sort of quantitative analysis to determine whether people are already buying something close to what you’re selling. You could also ask people too. You could go up to one of your neighbors and say, “Hey, Chuck. I have this product idea for a fantastic new backyard water slide that’s going to allow kids to play endlessly without ruining your lawn. Is that something you would be interested in buying?”. Well, yes, I do believe so.

That’s easier to do if you have a physical product, but if you’re dealing in the digital realm, a’la apps, you have to do something call building a prototype.

Building a prototype is a lot like an architect building a model. It’s essentially saying: this is the basic functionality. This is what it’s going to look like — potentially — when it’s finished. This is how we foresee it looking towards the time we launch.

A prototype is an important thing as it allows people to see your vision, because – let’s face it, humans are inherently awful at describing a creative idea when it only lives in a person’s head.

You can build a prototype in a number of ways, such as:

  1. A low-fi paper prototype sketch
  2. A mid-fi interactive prototype utilizing something call InVision
  3. A hi-fi fully interactive prototype coded by a developer

These methods are best utilized in phases, starting with #1 at the beginning of your product development phase, #2 in the middle and #3 towards the end. Testing is a must and should be done as often as possible. I will write a full post on how to properly conduct user testing, but here’s the jist:

  1. Sit someone down and give them the preamble (why they are here)
  2. Run them through 10 tasks and ask them probing questions when they start to stumble
  3. Ask them follow up questions to gauge their response to the exercise and any final questions

That seems easy right?

So, why is it so hard to build a startup? Well, getting a user to use something you’ve built is not exactly straightforward. It takes time to build a product that achieves Product-Market Fit. But, if you do….you’ve created a product from scratch that had no value and suddenly has…a lot of value. A lot. And, you know what that means.