Before Committing to a Startup Idea, Try Dating It First

Most startups begin with someone falling deeply in love with the perfect idea and a personal desire to share that love with the world. If you have been in this situation, you know it’s love at first sight, and no one can convince you otherwise. When people you don’t know offer criticism about your new “partner” you think to yourself, “If they only knew my idea like I know my idea then they wouldn’t be saying so many negative things.”

Rather than taking the rational path of stepping back with a healthy level of objectivity, the smitten founder decides to plow forward in order to “prove” to the world they were right all along, and everyone else was wrong.

42% of startups fail because they pursue problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need.

I believe in love as much as anyone. Passion, persistence, and perseverance are well-known keys to startup success, however…love at first sight usually results in a startup being DOA. I understand that speed to market can be crucial, but this is only the case if you have solid proof that the market needs what you are offering.

Rather than succumbing to the numbing effects of dopamine (the love drug) and rushing to book the honeymoon suite in Las Vegas, I suggest that you pump the brakes a bit and begin with a casual date at the local coffee shop. You would be surprised at what you could learn when you slow down and ask a few simple first date questions such as:

  1. Who are you really and who are your people? (What makes your idea unique? Are there other people out there like you? Do you have friends who can vouch for you and your idea?)
  2. Why aren’t you currently in a committed relationship? (Who are you target customers? Who is using it now and how much are they willing to pay? Are you the marrying kind capable of sustaining a mutually beneficial relationship that gets stronger over time, or are you more like a “one-night stand” that will be fun but not meant to last?)
  3. How do you see yourself five years from now? (Do you see us traveling the world with new adventures around every corner or do you see us teaming up to manage the local garden center?)

17% of startups fail because they don’t understand user’s wants and needs.

Most people in the dopamine haze don’t ask these questions until well after it’s clear that the relationship is not working out. Rather than risk rejection up front, we would rather ride it out and hope that “love” will be enough. Discovering, developing and scaling a profitable business model is equal parts passion and equal parts analytics. Unfortunately, founders usually err more to the passion side of the equation until it’s too late.

The biggest step to clearing up the haze very early in the startup process is having the presence of mind and the courage to ask the right questions. You should begin your questioning of the witness with the following:

  1. Do I have a reliable method of determining my target market size? The example below relates most to sizing the market for a mobile app.
    • 30% of registered users and those downloading mobile apps will use your service each month.
    • 10% of registered users and those downloading mobile apps will use the service each day.
    • Concurrent users of a real-time service will seldom exceed 10% of the number of daily users.
  2. How do I determine which marketing channel will drive the best results?
    • Are there established buying habits/practices in the product category?
    • Does the channel strengthen the sales process? At what cost to the company?
    • What are the price and complexity issues surrounding sale of the product?
  3. How are you positioned against your competition and where can you win?
    • Are you more convenient? How much more?
    • Is your service offering better? How so?
    • How effective is their branding? Can you differentiate?

These are just a few of the simple questions, that if answered up front, can tell you whether you have something that is set up grow quickly over time or whether you have something that may be a lot of fun but not sustainable.

Before you do significant damage to your personal, professional and financial well-being, I highly recommend taking a hostile witness approach to your startup idea. It’s important for you to see very early the reality of the situation and clearly, recognize when things can be improved and when to call it quits. In life, a bad relationship can result in expensive therapy and many binges. In business, this experience often ends in bad credit, bad debt, a bad reputation and bad multi-million dollar losses.

Love is a very powerful drug both personally and professionally, and if you don’t know how to play the “dating” game masterfully, it can cost you more than you can than a bit of remorse.

Are you in love with your idea or merely experiencing a strong sense of like? I would suggest the latter until you know different.

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