Where to start with a startup, Part I: The Value Behind Your Story

Where to start with a startup, Part I: The Value Behind Your Story

For an entrepreneur, starting a business seems like the equivalent of an artist having a blank canvas. You’ve probably got a great idea and a range of tools to make it happen, but don’t know where to begin.

The key at this stage is how to get the best out of an idea as well as put the foundations and structure in place for its best chance of long-term success.

So, where to start?

First up, you should define the core business proposition.  Quickly root out and make decisions around fundamental items the idea needs to get to market and gain small numbers of influential customers (known as early adopters).

These few customers will help drive and define the shape of the proposition for the foreseeable future and as the customer base grows and the proposition matures so too will the business.

Your customers are your business, and your business is to provide a service to your customers and satisfy their existing and (as yet) unmet needs.

Place the customer at the centre of everything you do and if you’re fortunate enough to have a great idea without deeply ingrained processes, technology stack and financial systems already in place, then you can do this with immediate effect:

  1. Conduct market research to validate existing assumptions and discover unmet needs (both desktop, 1–2–1 [selective] interviews and community-based surveys)
  2. Define a core set of ‘power users’ (early adopters) that you feel widely represent your intended customer base. They will stress, challenge and help define the product as it evolves over time.
  3. Continue to rely on this (evolving) group of people to validate your hypotheses and future product enhancements as well as evangelise your business to family, friends, and the wider community.

Going back to my original question, where to start?

To borrow a mantra from business leader Simon Sinek, Start With Why. If you want people to buy into your idea then they have to believe what you believe, only then do you need to let them know that you have the capability to help make it a reality.

To do this, establish the defining moments that conjured this idea in the first place and the subsequent moments that made you realise you needed to start this business?

Once this backbone is in place you can start analysing the factors that will affect the idea and it’s success such as competitors, technology, trends, geographies and partners.

Be human: Finding our core values

Try to think of the business you are building as a human-being and the character you pull together as representative of the company as a whole. As businesses are (more often than not) made up of lots of different people with a mix of personalities and characteristics you need to align on a set of values early on that will represent the business.

Your values and what you believe in is what makes you human.

We are differentiated by our personalities which are made up of inherent traits and unique life experiences that are reflected in our actions. The same goes for the businesses we build, and your company values are the words or phrases that best define who you are as a business and what you stand for.

You need to articulate these values in a clear and meaningful way so they drive each and every decision the business makes on its journey. If they were to talk what would they say? How would they greet you? What attributes make you different?

We’ve all seen company values from the likes of Facebook and Airbnb so it’s hard to avoid just reproducing our values from already successful businesses — therefore, we need to be more matter-of-fact about the attributes that make us, us.

Use the core business idea, what you do, who you are, what you believe and what you have to offer as drivers for your business values. These values will provide stability and support as a point of reference not only for you as a founder but the employees to come.

Your values are what you want people to understand the business to be, what it stands for and represents — but that takes time and you only get people’s time when you deliver a great service over and over again.

We, therefore, have two dimensions at play here:

  1. A great service or product
  2. Company values.

The challenge is the make these two key ingredients sing the same tune and drive you towards a mutual goal of satisfied customers that love the product/service and buy in to the brand.

As an aside, the brand will evolve throughout this process and will continue to evolve over the coming weeks and months, but try not to focus too much on the word brand itself. It has a tendency to make people jump to the aforementioned preconceptions of what we want the brand to be without first addressing the paramount issues and ensuing tasks.

The business should be value and service driven while keeping the key brand elements such as tone of voice, logo, messaging, colour palette and imagery in mind as the idea evolves.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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