All successful products start with a seedling of an idea.
But for that idea to bear good fruits, you need to have at your disposal a crack team to execute your idea. In addition, you need to be well-versed in the market trends, as well as understand your customers’ expectations.
Here are some handy tips from B2C startup founders — some whose projects crumbled and others who experienced relative success — that will help kickstart your journey.
For other B2C startups well into the development phase, these pointers could serve as reminders of the key areas you should tackle and realign your perspective to the path of success. Rinse and repeat.
Be well versed in your product’s concept before drawing up a blueprint
Before you lay the groundwork and draw out the blueprint of the product, you first have to know exactly what you are building.
Founder of the failed KOLOS iPad racing wheel, Ivaylo Kalburdzhiev, did not even own an iPad prior to coming up with the concept of the iPad racing wheel. He did not know its market nor its potential (or lack thereof) and thus failed to understand what pain points he planned to tackle.
“Whatever you start working on, make sure it’s a pain you’ve had yourself, so you can really relate to it,” he said in a post.
Attila Szegeti, Founder of ‘Rate My Speech’ — a defunct service which was aimed at helping people assess their public-speaking skills – did not have a clear concept of its product and attempted too many pivots. Being able to pitch confidently and sway the audiences may not necessarily mean that you are pitching a good concept.
“When working on ratemyspeech.co I spent way too much time on stage, and not nearly enough time talking to my team and our users. So while all the pitch competition wins kept my ego well-fed, we didn’t progress enough with our concept,” reflected Szegeti.
Knowing your product also means you have to be able to explain it succinctly.
“Before you create a product, really think about how you are going to explain to someone what your product is, how it works, and why he/she wants it. If you cannot do this using a picture and two lines of text within three seconds, don’t waste your time and resources building what might be a great product that no one ever knows about, purchases, or uses,” explained Anders Hsi, Founder of defunct social network Amiloom.
Research on market trends to validate your product’s reach
Lack of research can result in huge losses if you do not know whether your product is even viable under current or future market projections.
For Kalburdzhiev, his failure to research meant that he did not realise that the market for his product was shrinking with the declining sales of iPad and other tablets.
Fastr, a former unified customer service messaging platform, realised that many brands (especially big brands) were not keen on the idea, preferring to handle customer service on their own platform instead.
Engaging with the potential customer base early will allow startups to determine whether their idea is valid.
“It took me a year to work out where the idea would actually work and how. I could have found this out in weeks if I’d been more enthusiastic about engaging customers early…having something to show them when you find them is also really important. It’s a tough call whether it’s better to waste time writing code for an audience that may not exist, or finding an audience for a product you can’t build,” said Marcus Holmes, Founder of Keep Fit Keep Sane, a failed “emotional online gym”.
Julian Lee, Founder of Ambi Climate, a smart add-on for air conditioners, had a more positive experience.
“We have had people consistently validate our product, from our pitch at RISE [a tech conference] to our Echelon 2014 win,” said Lee. “A young company needs to understand their audience and how they want to be perceived by their users and the audiences that they are trying to capture,” he added.
Assemble the right team to build the best product
Dustin Onghanseng, Founder of uHoo, an indoor air quality sensing device, strongly believes that you need the right team in order for your product to succeed.
For IoT startups, he stressed the need to recruit team members who not only have the necessary software, hardware skills and have an eye for design, but also possess the grit and patience to be committed to your vision.
Beyond that, you also need to find the right partner factory to manufacture your product.
Martin Erlic, Founder of UDesign, a failed fashion app, discovered that his team’s skills were not sufficient a little too late.
“We underestimated the complexity of the project…we shirked on paying for programming because we thought ourselves expert enough,” said Erlic in a post.
Going in lean may be the modus operandi for many startups, but it’s not for everyone. It is more prudent to hire someone with the skillset that you lack, rather than attempting to tackle that area yourself.
Szegeti learnt it the hard way.
“We didn’t have a CTO who dedicated enough time to our product. Instead of fully focussing on finding a CTO, or looking for other ways to get somebody creating the product, I decided to learn how to code and do it myself,” said Szegeti.
If you are building your startup for longevity (if not, why are you in this game?), you want to foster a healthy company culture, building loyalty and fraternity among your teammates in order for everyone to be productive and to work towards a common goal.
“People have different goals, different interests, different personalities and different ways of leading with different issues. Managing all of that while maintaining a healthy and productive culture is a hell of a job, but it pays off in the future,” said João Romão, Founder of defunct social gifting platform Wishareit, in a post.
Also Read: 5 tips to build a global startup
Be prepared to face surprises. As Murphy’s law states: If anything can go wrong, it will
Not all startups go through the same developmental cycle. Some startups, especially IoT startups, require more effort and work to build than others.
“In some ways an IoT startup is many startups in one. If you think about your traditional sort of software startup, you have a backend and a mobile app which would also exist in many IoT startups. But you also have this whole hardware component, and with it comes a lot of manufacturing as well,” said Lee.
Planning is crucial, but that doesn’t preclude you from unexpected mishaps or surprises. One must be mentally prepared to tackle these challenges and even pivot if necessary.
For Lee, handling the production and logistics for Ambi Climate proved to be a challenge, as some elements were beyond his control.
“We thought we were pretty well-organised because we finished our campaign last November and we already had a small production run so we thought we were already quite in shape for shipping by June this year. But we were still a couple of months delayed [in delivery], mainly because of a lot of problems in production,” he said.
Make wise use of your resources to maximise your burn rate
Having a great technical, marketing team and a good idea isn’t enough. You need to manage your resources with care, lest you burn through it faster than a lit match.
As mentioned earlier in the article, UDesign failed to channel its resources into the right places, such as hiring talented programmers. Instead, it chose to invest in promotional products such as photo and video shoots, which, in the end failed to produce tangible results that impacted the growth of the startup.
“If we had hired smart, we could have had a full stack developer working full-time for another four weeks at that rate. That was basically our death knell. Flashy videography just doesn’t do anything for a product that isn’t functionally, if not aesthetically, complete,” said Erlic.
Underestimating costs can also be fatal.
Defunct mobile broadband provider Samba Mobile could not sustain the cost of offering wholesale data to subscribers despite having the financial backing from an international operator and other investors.
Failed e-commerce solutions platform RewardMe made the mistake of scaling far too early to achieve growth, instead of focussing on its solutions. The co-founders attended expensive conferences, flew frequently to attend client meetings and bought a lot more hardware than they could sell.
“We should have buckled down and made the best possible product for Fraiche [RewardMe’s only client]. We should have used Fraiche as a testing ground to determine how to effectively capture users. We could have targetted other similar quick service restaurants using Fraiche as a testimonial. In addition, we could have built a customer support model for Fraiche which would allow us to scale to other clients,” said Ju Loayza, Co-Founder of RewardMe.
Don’t be afraid to fail
It takes tremendous courage and sacrifices to run a startup (especially if you are a first mover).
You may have to weather constant naysaying, setbacks and discouragements, and you may have to stall or even pivot, but when you emerge triumphant you will wear your battle scar like a badge of honour.
That being said, as the saying goes—failure is the mother of all success. So even if you do fall, it will only help ease the process of building your next startup.
This article was produced in partnership with the Singtel Accelerator Challenge 2015. An API workshop is being held on 9 October 2015 and places are extremely limited. To reserve your seat for an afternoon with Singtel’s Product Development team, register at http://singtelaccelerator.com/apiworkshop before 7 October 2015.
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