We’re all struck at some point or another with ideas that sound like business gold. Around a dinner table with our friends, we argue the advantages of our latest dream innovation, and as we’re taking showers, we imagine products that could be perfect to solve society’s most frustrating problems.
Yet most of these ideas become nothing more than a conversation topic or a pipe dream we keep in our back pocket for our genius future selves.
How does anyone turn ideas into an actual business? The path to entrepreneurship can seem impossible. How does one shape an idea into a path to market?
The first steps of entrepreneurship are not as daunting as securing millions of dollars in investment nor as easy as creating a dream product and seeing consumers to line up to buy it.
It may be helpful to think of early-stage entrepreneurship as similar to the scientific process. First you create a hypothesis about how the world works, then carefully test that hypothesis, then adjust, and test again in a repeated cycle until you’ve found one that sticks.
The key is careful reiteration and constant adjustment. How does this relate to entrepreneurship? Let’s break it down into a few steps.
Identify Your Problem
The problem is the first hypothesis. This step is identifying some sort of societal problem and proving the existence, importance, and negative effects of that problem that your idea hopes to fix. This is especially important, because without a problem that your product is fixing or a gap that your innovation is filling, your idea will simply never get off the ground. No matter how cool or ingenious your idea may be, consumers will not buy it unless they need or want the product because it is going to fix some issue or fill a space in their life. Still not sure of the importance of this? 42% of products that fail in the market fail because they do not meet a user need.
How does one identify or validate the problem? Market research, one of the most critical steps for successful entrepreneurship, is the first ‘testing’ of your hypothesis that a problem exists and requires a solution. First, you’ll want to target the group of people that suffer from this problem and you hope would buy your product. You might find a group to contact via Facebook groups, online forums, or consumers of a product in a similar market. Surveying those people allows you to gather firsthand experiences of a problem and concrete evidence that a market need exists.
Proof of Concept
Another hypothesis that you’ll need to test, after you’ve confirmed that there is a problem and market need, is proof that your product will actually work. This is a simple technical creation of the essential elements of your product to verify that whatever you’re creating, from a technological innovation to a new mobile app, will actually work and effectively respond to your problem. A proof of concept is especially important once you begin pitching to potential investors to prove what you’re hoping to create is feasible.
Minimum Viable Product
The next hypothesis relies again on market research and validating your product with consumers. A Minimum Viable Product is the barebones model of your product to test that consumers can use your product and respond positively to it. One example of an MVP is that of the shoe retail company Zappos, where the founder took pictures of shoes in stores and posted them online. If someone bought the shoes, he personally went to the store, bought them, and shipped them to his buyer. MVPs are not elaborate but validate that the essential components of your proposed product will be wanted and utilized by the user.
Entrepreneurship is not simply the drive to flesh out a fantastic idea, but the careful commitment to testing a hypothesized product again and again. From problem identification to product validation, the work of entrepreneurs is similar to the work of scientist in its thorough analysis of assumptions about how the world works and what society needs.
By Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Media Fellow