How to Transform a Problem into a Startup

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Looking to a solve a problem with your startup? These five development stages are crucial if your mission's to succeed.

By Alex Buck (Co-founder & CEO, Plumwise)

When my business partner and I founded our business, we both had a problem no-one else was solving. We became frustrated enough to solve it ourselves. And our business was born.

We then took careful steps to ensure our business idea solved a problem for many people – not just for the two us.

Early on, we spent a lot of time talking to people: potential customers, service providers, successful entrepreneurs, other startup founders, investors, business professors, and on and on. We asked a lot of questions and found some common advice coming out of our meetings. This advice, which boils down to five basic themes, helped us take our first steps into the startup world.

1. Do Your Research

Do others you know have the same problem you're experiencing? Is there something out there that solves the problem already?

We asked everyone we knew, researched, asked some more, and finally began testing out ideas on our friends and family before we began building a thing. We also vetted any solutions similar to Plumwise – which I admit was intimidating. There are big players, new tech companies and niche products in our business category. But none of them solved our particular problem, which was to give members vetted recommendations based on first-hand member experience.

But we learned a lot early on and, most importantly, before we invested a lot of money in the product.

2. Find a Low-Cost, Low-Tech Way to Test Your Solution

There’s an adage in the tech community that if you’re not embarrassed by your first product, then you’ve spent too much time and money on design and development. You should test, test and re-test to validate your solution.

For our first “product” we brought 150 beta users together and tested the Plumwise recommendation model via email. We started with a very basic website and a lot of manual work.

This allowed us to learn, make changes and create a product roadmap with real working knowledge, before spending a lot of money on development.

3. Treat Your Early Adopters as Investors

Your early adopters are almost as passionate about your company as you are. And they want to help. It’s crucial to keep them engaged by sending them regular updates — especially when you’re hiring, fundraising or looking for feedback on new developments.

This group of people will go above and beyond to help you, while giving feedback that remains true to the core of the business. Ask for feedback often and listen to them because some of them could even become early investors.

4. Stay Nimble

The beauty of a startup is the lack of bureaucracy and the ability to carefully and quickly pivot. You can retest and reinvent as needed.

Once you have your first product or solution, you cannot stop testing and validating. We constantly go back to our members and service providers to test our value proposition. And, unsurprisingly, that value proposition has changed many times over the last two years.

We started our business as a member subscription model, but realized that as a newcomer in the market, it would be hard to build a successful company on subscriptions alone. We’ve pivoted several times and are now providing marketing and operational support to the businesses listed on our site.

We’re nimble enough to fill the needs of small and mid-sized business owners while still solving our initial problem of providing members with the best-of-the-best provider recommendations.

5. Ask Your Investors for Mentorship and Advice

Investors should not only give you an injection of funds, but also help you fill in areas of expertise you may be lacking. We began talking to potential investors almost a year before fundraising. It was important to talk through our ideas, pivots and next steps to get potential investors vested in the company before they committed any funds.

We constantly review all of these tips to keep on track, and remain true to our core customer and business. Everything we work on daily is prioritized based on one of two goals — making money and/or increasing membership. We still use these tips as guides toward those goals, and as a way to bring us back to why we started the company in the first place: to help solve the very problem we ourselves experienced.

Was your startup inspired by a problem? If so, what was it?

Photo credit: Ruslan Grumble via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Alex Buck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Plumwise, a selective online community devoted to saving members time. It connects members to service providers without endless reviews, vendor influence or mediocre opinions. Alex has over 15 years of legal, business and technology experience. Follow her on Twitter as @plumwise.