Over the past few months, I’ve judged both the Startup
Weekend and ServiceJam in
Hong Kong, attended pitch
nights, and spoke at some start-up
networking events. Almost all aspiring entrepreneurs who I talked to at these
events struggled with when was the right time to release V1 of their product. One
guy even told me that he was sitting on an idea, an idea that he thinks can be bigger
than Facebook, for almost 12 years waiting for patents!
My advice to each all of these entrepreneurs is the same: start small and start now.
Your best bet if you are thinking about something is to just do it. Many people think
that they can’t do it or that their project is too big. No problem! Start small and
test your theory out. We’ve all heard about MVP or minimum
viable product, but my advice goes even deeper: minimum viable idea (MVI).
What is a minimum viable idea? It is the smallest version of your idea that you can
test and get meaningful results. If you are unsure of your idea or want to validate
your idea, you have to build the minimum viable product of your minimum viable idea
and compare the results against your assumptions and expectations. Then as the saying
goes iterate or exit.
For example someone recently came to me with a social networking idea. They had a
big grandiose plan to build their own platform with all the bells and whistles. The
idea was good, but would it fly? I just don’t know if their assumptions are valid.
They complained that they had to wait a few months for their first MVP to be built
so they can start testing and validating their assumptions. I told them why months?
You can build a super small version of the idea as a Facebook app, share it with some
friends/testers, and gather the results. A minimum viable idea’s minimum viable Facebook
app would probably take a HKU student one or two weeks to put together.
Another friend wanted to build an elaborate social media powered electronic display
in a drab public place, requiring government approval. (The goal is to increase happiness
as well as make some money.) What would be a MVI? Ask for permission to paint the
drab public some happy colors with a painted easy to remember link for people to +1
or “like” or comment and display those comments as an RSS feed. No difficult software
to build and a much easier conversation with the public works department. (Or maybe
this can be accomplished just by buying advertisement space, no need for any approval!)
The results that come back will help validate the idea!
The best way to get started is to actually get started. Go out there and find a fast,
cheap, and creative way to test your idea (MVI) before you even start to think about
the MVP of your true offering.
Stephen Forte sits on the board of several start-ups including Triton Works. Stephen is also the Microsoft Regional Director for the NY Metro region and speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on application and database development including Programming SQL Server 2008 (MS Press).