Five Key Steps for Startup Success

by | Aug 27, 2014

A recent article in Forbes talks about how an incubator in Los Angeles started an ongoing Design Thinking Workshop Series to equip its portfolio companies with this methodology. The five key steps they advocate are as follows:

1.    Uncover insights that drive innovation

Considering the user through the lens of empathy is crucial. Start with defining who your users are. Create personas. Speculate about the pain points of their daily lives, their behaviors, desires and needs. As a startup, narrow down your potential users to one beachhead market that you can service and win quickly.

Next, deepen your understanding by walking in their shoes (literally, if you can) with meticulous research to verify and refine your speculations. Skipping or skimming this step could jeopardize success; these insights let you know whether your target users would want and value your offering.

Make sense of your findings. Do opportunities rise to the surface that you hadn’t seen before? Be nimble. Identify key insights and focus on turning them into meaningful solutions.

 2.    Identify enabling technology

User driven, tech enabled.

Letting users drive solutions instead of technology might seem counter-intuitive for a cleantech startup, but it pays off. Insights from users should dictate the key requirements for a product or service. Ideas that aren’t harnessed in the right context risk missing their mark…and potential.

Develop concepts, prototypes and their use-cases. Test, fail, refine and debug. As you hone in on the best technology for your concept, evaluate whether it is a product or a platform. Be careful not to pigeonhole yourself into one product if your concept is actually a platform.

Nail the logistics.

In 2012, 84% of Kickstarter’s top projects shipped significantly later than promised. As a new company, understanding realistic timelines and costs for product development, packaging and delivery is important, impacting your ability to compete and retain customers.  Consult with seasoned experts and take advantage of multi-functional teams.

3.    Turn solutions into viable ventures

Make it real.

As your prototypes increase in fidelity, refine your value proposition. Pivot as necessary, but never lose sight of the user. What needs are you satisfying? Who are your competitors and why should a customer choose you?

Refine the details of your business model.

Identify your partners, channels, revenue streams and cost structure. If infrastructure necessary for the ideal user experience is missing, address that. For example, offering a life-simplifying technology with a complicated purchasing experience creates dissonance. Find or create alternatives.

 4.    Design and tell stories

Bring your value proposition to life by telling the story of your solution. Get people excited, create memories and make complex ideas digestible. Do this at every touch-point of the user experience, and for different audiences.  Know what to say to both the venture capitalist and the social media blogger.

Ensure that the core of your story is both harmonized and reinforced across each touch-point – from the design of the artifact, the experience of using it, purchasing it, maintaining it, to social media messaging and customer service.

Be concise. In 2013, the average attention span was only eight seconds. Brief and repeatable messages are your friend. Visuals and imagery are too.

 5.    Fail efficiently

Companies rarely get the solution right the first time. Understanding and expecting that teaches us how to test early, often, and adjust accordingly. It’s OK to fail…but learn how to do it quickly, cheaply and learn from the experience.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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