This article was published on April 29, 2016

7 essential steps to help you build a winning startup strategy

7 essential steps to help you build a winning startup strategy
Brian de Haaff
Story by

Brian de Haaff

Brian is the CEO of Aha! – the world’s #1 product roadmap software. He has been the founder or early employee of six cloud-based software co Brian is the CEO of Aha! – the world’s #1 product roadmap software. He has been the founder or early employee of six cloud-based software companies. His last two were acquired by Aruba Networks [ARUN] and Citrix [CTXS], respectively.

You have a great idea for a business and are rightly excited to get going. There is so much to do that you can hardly sleep at night. You are thinking of all the plans and steps that you must complete, like securing financing, setting up a website, hiring your first employees… the list goes on and on.

You feel deep pressure to finalize all the details – if not today, then first thing tomorrow.

Not so fast.

Many new business owners share this sense of urgency. In their haste to build brilliant things, they skip over business fundamentals. But that’s a big mistake.

I’m the CEO and co-founder of Aha! product roadmap software.

I’m also fortunate to have many years of experience building businesses. But my success in this area does not mean that I have not made mistakes.

When I ran into trouble at the first two startups I co-founded, it was because I had veered away from my initial strategy. Finding and following that true north for my businesses helped me get back on track.

train tracks

Defining your strategy is the crucial first step in building a roadmap for your product and company. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. I speak with several startup CEOs and Product Managers each week that are convinced strategy is a luxury they can’t afford. “We are just trying to stay afloat,” they say.

We don’t have time to talk about strategy.

Experience has taught me that this is a fatal mistake. Investing time in fundamentals upfront will help you build a more stable business in the long run.

So, hit the brakes before you rush into completing your to-do list. Step back, take a deep breath, and make sure your strategy is rock solid first.

Create your vision statement

Your vision statement outlines your main goal for the company.

Let’s say you have a great idea for an app that encourages people to develop healthy eating habits and makes it easy to share recipes. Your vision statement could be as simple as, “Become the most downloaded healthy recipe app on iOS and Android.”

discover, search

Your vision statement should be short enough for you to easily recall. And every action that you take moving forward should align with this high level vision of what you aim to achieve.

So, write it down, put it somewhere visible, and commit it to memory.

Define the customer challenge

There must be a compelling reason for your business to exist. So, spell out the one simple problem you are trying to solve for customers.

If we continue with the healthy app example from above, the customer challenge could be: People want to eat healthier, but they need easy and affordable recipes with ingredients that they can find locally.

Own your strengths and weaknesses

This exercise helps you face reality – if you’re as honest as possible.

honest abe, abe lincoln

You may possess deep knowledge of nutrition and years of experience working in retail health food stores. But if you’ve never owned a business, this could be a weakness until you gain more experience.

You have to identify potential roadblocks that might stand in your way, and then figure out how you will overcome them.

Describe the market landscape and competitors

You might fear that assessing your competition will steal your joy for what you want to build. But you need to be realistic.

It’s crucial to know the size of the opportunity before you, as well as what you are up against. So, identify each major competitor.

In doing so, assess the realistic threat that each competitor poses to your business.

Determine your positioning in market

Your product must be distinct and stand out in some special way. What value will you offer that’s different – and better – than what your competitors offer?

brainstorm business strategy

Your app could include a tool that helps customers locate ingredients within their zip codes and suggests close substitutes for rare ingredients.

Remember that other aspects of the customer experience can also set you apart, such as outstanding customer support.

Nail your go-to-market plan

Identify the customers you want to reach – such as busy professionals – and how you plan to reach them. Spell out the channels you’ll use to sell your product, and how you envision your business rolling out.

In the case of the healthy recipe app, you might start with the application first and add a mobile app later on.

Finally, have a good idea of what your selling price will be. It’s imperative you know what customers are willing to pay for your product.

Find customers who will take a chance

Many businesses fail simply because they do not have a product that people actually want or need.

So before you go too far, start talking to people and sharing your idea. Take note of their reaction. Do they seem excited? Are they asking further questions? These can be signs that you are on to something good. Then, find customers who are willing to buy your product or service, and ask for their commitment.

e-comm, ecommerce, online payments

So, in the case of your food app, find a certain number of people who will give your site a try. They will likely be your first customers once you get up and running, and if they like what they see, they will also help you spread the word.

Once you have tackled these seven steps of strategy, you can start setting some high-level goals and initiatives that bring it to life. Doing so will help you make steady progress towards your mission to build a successful business.

Here’s one final piece of advice:

As your business takes off and grows, always make sure that any goals and initiatives you pursue tie back to your overall strategy. Success as an entrepreneur depends on knowing where you are going – and why. So, let your strategy be your guide to a successful business venture.

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.