So you're thinking of doing a startup. You have a great idea, you've thought of a business plan and strategy, and you're preparing to quit your job and do a startup. But you have doubts around whether you are well prepared, and if you've "thought through" your idea. There are lots of things you need to be prepared for before you jump in, and here's a few guidelines to check your preparedness.
1. Do you have a written plan for your overall product?
It is absolutely essential that you have your plan written down. Without a written plan, the nasty details of execution don't really reveal themselves, and these can be dangerous traps that you don't want to fall into. A good plan has the overall product idea, it identifies the market/niche that the product will address and how exactly the product will solve the problem. Further, you'll also have to write down what your V1 product looks like. The V1 plan should be self-contained, be executable in a reasonable timeframe (say 3-6 months), add value to all stakeholders and solves a substantial portion of the bigger problem.
You shouldn't confuse your V1 plan with your overall product plan. For example, there have been several attempts at getting rid of the Time Zone as a concept by inventing new ways of counting time. While this is a great idea, and the world as a whole would benefit greatly without the confusing concept of timezones, enterpruners haven't been able to come up with a viable V1 plan for it - A small, executable plan that works for early adopters and makes it work with the rest of the world. Beware this trap - While you might have a great idea that solves a big problem, without a viable V1 plan, your idea will not take off.
Also remember, this plan is not the same as a VC-pitch that you've thought about if you're planning to raise money. While the VC-deck is intended to communicate trust, capability and a marketable idea, the product plan will be your roadmap for execution.
2. Identify features
Now that you have a V1 plan in place, you need to identify all the features that will be a part of the V1 product. This will incorporate the next level of detail for the V1 plan from the previous step. Ideally, this is a big spreadsheet - With a full listing of all features you're planning to build. Against each feature, you need to identify which all stakeholders it affects (including your product itself) and how exactly each stakeholder benefits from it. For example, if "Collect user profile information" is a feature for your new social network, then you'll have to write down the following:
- User -> How will the user benefit by sharing their profile information? Why should they share their profile information?
- (Friends of User) -> How will other users benefit from reading a user's profile information? Why is it necessary to have another user's profile for this user?
- Your Product -> How will you use the profile information? How does it impact revenue/engagement/recommendations etc...
- Other Stakeholders -> How does having a user's profile information benefit other stakeholders?
The other thing this list will identify is whether you have feature-closure. You'll find many features depend on other features to make use of them, or some features are meaningful only if other features exist. So, you'll have to ensure that the list of features you're picking for V1 are complete and self-sufficient, and you've not missed out on anything. The second thing this will ensure is the value to each stakeholder. There has to be sufficient value in each stakeholder's column to ensure that they get substantial return on their engagement with your product.
3. Create a "priority list"
There's a saying "No plan survives the battlefield" and it is just as true in the world of technology startups as it is in a battlefield. There will be lots of disruptions to your plans, and you'll need to make several heat-of-the-moment decisions on adding/dropping features. In anticipation of this, you should have a "priority list" in handy that immediately tells you what features/stakeholders are more important. This list is an ordered stack-rank of all the features of your product (v1 and beyond) in order of how important they are for your product to succeed. Creating this list beforehand is important - you can dispassionately rank all your features with a calm sense of trade-off so that when you're in the middle of a stressful decision, you have an impartial list at hand that will help you make the right decision of what to chop off and what to keep.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no "perfect time" to jump in and do a startup. You have to do your prep work, prepare for any foreseeable problems, and trust your instincts. It is highly unlikely that when your product becomes successful, it will look exactly like your original plan, but the plan is important as a compass - It will guide you towards the direction of progress.