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Matt Boyd

Your Startup Checklist: Five Key Things to do Before You Launch

By: Matt Boyd | August 13, 2013 | 
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Startup Checklist

By Matt Boyd

The biggest responsibility of an early stage entrepreneur is answering this question: Do people want or need the product you’re offering?

It’s a bit of a catch 22.

No product, no testing. No testing, no feedback.

No feedback…well, you see where I’m going with this.

Fortunately, there’s good news!

I’ve made a list of some simple ideas that worked for us at Sqwiggle in validating the use case, and ensuring people would find value in the product.

This is the EXACT process we took for market validating our product.

I hope this startup checklist helps you on your journey.

Build a Crappy Prototype

First of all, if you don’t at least have some sort of simple prototype for people to try, then you’ll never truly understand if there’s value in the product you’re considering. I’d recommend taking a few days (max one week), and put together something simple that gets the general point across.

Your early prototype doesn’t need to look great, it just needs to function moderately well. Don’t get bent out of shape over bugs, just throw something together.

Our first prototype was built in flash and had very little user interface. It was literally just a crappy demo we threw together in a few days, but for us, the insight we gained was insanely valuable.

Find Three Companies to Test Drive the Prototype

The next step is to find a few companies that are willing to give your prototype a test run. This kind of testing will carry your concept through a gauntlet of daily criticism, but will bring you to an understanding of how to make your product better. It’s not for the faint of heart, and you must be willing to pivot your thinking quickly. We faced some hard criticism, but our product would have never gained traction if we ignored this crucial step in the process.

Ask Lots of Questions and Take Notes Like Crazy

Once you’ve given your testers some time to play around with the app, it’s time to start asking the hard questions. Rack your brain, and dig into what you really want to know. Here are some questions we asked:

  1. Tell me about your experience. We purposely design this question to be an open canvas, for our testers to discuss anything regarding their experience with our app.
  2. What are the problems you found? This question is designed to expose the weaknesses in your product’s design. You can only grow stronger if you know the problems and fix them so this was our attempt at understanding what made us suck.
  3. Did you find the product useful? The answer you get here can be hard to stomach. Don’t get bent out of shape if people say they didn’t find your product useful. Take anything you learn here and use it as a positive to move forward in broadening your product’s reach.
  4. How did you use the product? This question will help clarify if they understand what you’re trying to achieve with your product. We found that people didn’t generally get what we were trying to do, so it gave us a much bigger reason to clarify the use case within the app.
  5. Would you pay for the product? If so, how much? This is the question of the day. You want people to say yes to this one. In our case, nobody said they’d pay. We didn’t sweat it. Instead, we used it as an opportunity to figure out what WOULD make them pay.

Hack Your Way into a Startup Conference and Demo the Crap Out of the Prototype

This isn’t an easy task but if you can pull it off, it’s a great way to gain exposure, and see how people perceive your product in a quick demo environment. We walked straight into the Launch Festival in San Francisco, and took an unoccupied table in the demo room. People had no idea we didn’t belong there.

During the course of a few hours, we talked to hundreds of people. We learned three things: 1) Flash is horrible, so we decided to rebuild in WebRTC; 2) People really liked the basic interaction of our app, but the video quality wasn’t good enough; and 3) We desperately needed some form of text-based chat and media/file sharing.

Looking back on it, we couldn’t have survived without this feedback. We listened, and pivoted extremely quickly. The risk was absolutely worth the reward.

Make a Youtube Video, and Post it to Hacker News

Shortly after we hacked our way into the Launch Festival, we filmed a very basic video of us demoing the product.

Looking back on it, it was the sketchiest video ever, but this video propelled us farther than we could’ve ever dreamed. We took our sketchy video, and posted it to Hacker News.

I’ve never found a better community of intelligent, technically focused minds than Hacker News, and the response was absolutely overwhelming.

Hundreds of people viewed our video during the following 24 hours, and as a result, Greg from TechCrunch reached out to us for an exclusive interview.

The rest, as they say, is history. Our product had the market validation required to launch, and we’re currently at an early revenue stage and couldn’t be happier!

The most important asset you have in this volatile time is the ability to embrace the fact you’re a scrappy little startup. Dig into your startup checklist, do the dirty work required to prove your value to the market, and launch with confidence.

About Matt Boyd


Matt Boyle is the co-founder of Sqwiggle, a platform designed to designed to bring your team closer with seamless communication, and constant connection. Matt lives in San Fran, where he's also a product designer, blogger, coffee drinker, drummer, and gardener.

15 comments
biggreenpen
biggreenpen

I appreciated this article and your well-expressed points. And I loved the venture to the show where "no one knew we weren't supposed to be there." As my high school senior begins working on college (and I ramp up the worrying about paying for it), I remember being at some orientation gathering in college. I had come in on the tail end of some other meeting (for high honors students or something). I picked up a scholarship application off a stack of papers meant for them (not me) and on a whim filled it out and sent it in (and ultimately got the $$)! Sometimes it pays to go where you aren't supposed to be and act like you're one of them. :-)

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

Always amazed at how effective video can be, even the "sketchiest" kind. And I'm glad to learn about Sqwiggle. Very cool, Matt!

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Hey Matt - I love two things about this which are often overlooked

1) You don't learn things from talking, you learn things from doing and analyzing what happens...everyone talks about data like it's some big thing, but they rarely base their day to day decisions & core product development on it 

2) Find the key influencers in your segment, be where they are, and think & talk about the things they are thinking and talking about. And segment doesn't just mean "generally awesome and widely regarded tech figures." It means people who know and live and breath what you do, that larger figures look to in order to assess new currents, and what's important. 

mattboyd
mattboyd

Hey Steven, thanks for reading the article and glad I could offer a bit of butt kicking advice. I definitely need a good butt kick as well sometimes. :-)

As far as the crappy prototype is concerned, I do think anything that's attracting feedback and users is a positive thing so however you're getting that, is definitely a step in the right direction! Use it as fuel to propel you to the next step.

Let me know if you have any questions or additional thoughts. Would love to chat. twitter.com/mattboyd

SJSnelling
SJSnelling

First, I love your logo.

Your list provided me with another butt kicking, while leading me to believe it isn't too late. Butt kicking can be good...

When I read, "Do people want or need the product you’re offering?" I started shaking my head. I initially asked myself that question, and answered, heck yes...about 91 million people need what I'm going to offer. I didn't think about the follow-up question...do they know they need it? Heck, no!

Now, I wonder if I can use my existing website as my "Crappy Prototype" and move forward...

Thanks for the great article.

mattboyd
mattboyd

@biggreenpen Hi Paula, thanks for reading the article and sending through your thoughts. Yah, I agree. It takes a bit of tenacity but going where you're not supposed to definitely pays off occasionally. :-) I'm all for it!

mattboyd
mattboyd

@Word Ninja Thanks so much! Really appreciate you reading the article and checking out Sqwiggle. Means a lot to me!

mattboyd
mattboyd

@JoeCardilloHey Joe! You're seriously a rockstar. Really appreciate you sending through your takeaways and I agree w/ both points you've mentioned here. Thanks!!

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@mattboyd @JoeCardillo Ha, I'd have to disagree w/you there...rockstar I am not. Dude who likes to think about things, yes. I'm not big on labels....but I appreciate the compliment nonetheless.

Question for you though - where did the initial idea for Sqwiggle come from? What kinds of collab apps / software / hardware have you used in the past?

mattboyd
mattboyd

 Hi Joe, the initial idea came from our different backgrounds and experience with remote working. Just always being frustrated with the lack of connectivity that's involved in other collab apps. I've tried Skype, Hipchat, Campfire, etc but they didn't work for my use case. I wanted to dig in deeper with people and collab in a big way but text chat wasn't what I was looking for and the existing video solutions also fell short of my particular use case. Great question!