Most of my friends and relatives who are out of the technology world (mostly science, commerce or in other trades) always envy on the position of the current generations that come out of technology tracks. They feel, they are far behind the technology and they are missing out on a huge opportunity of Internet and Mobile infiltration. This philosophy is true when you take into consideration the engineers who had to leave the jobs for some or the other. It is very frightening for them to launch a tech start-up, as they are not immersed in that world.
Majority of us believe that the great software product companies can be built only if the founder is a developer himself. We quote examples like Microsoft, Google, Skype, Facebook, etc. where the founder(s) themselves were tech-savvy and most of them developed their product themselves. We forget that we also had several other successful companies like Apple, where Steve Jobs didn’t ever code. He wasn’t an engineer and he didn’t do any original design, but he was technical enough with a vision to alter and add to other designs.
Know your strengths before you start-up
An entrepreneur need not be a developer. Whereas a developer can be an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, one needs to focus on many other aspects of the start-up like Marketing, Sales, Finances, etc. So this surely proves that if you are very dynamic, able to learn the market and have some unique ideas, you should just go and start-up. No need to learn to programme to start your own product. I will quote few examples here –
- One of my friends in New York has about 25 years of experience as a real estate agent. He wanted a change and he saw the huge opportunity of fixing the processes of documentation. He knew what exactly the problem is and he wanted to help other agents. So he started a software company that helped agents to store documents online.
- Another friend of mine, again in New York, who was an agent in a stock-broking house, started a mobile application to find Nightclubs in New York.
- Another close friend of mine, who was a model, started an eCommerce site and invented a lip-balm product. She started this as a part-time thing which is now full-time and bringing in several healthy products to market.
(All these people worked with my companies that I founded and still remain my good friends.)
As a founder, you need to understand your strengths and sharpen those skills. If you are not developing software, you need to bring in the operational experience or other skills by which the start-up can flourish. Following are a few points you can vouch for if you are non-technical:
#1. Deep industry knowledge
A software product solves a business or personal problem. If we do not have a pain point to solve, business is not going to sell. So the industry knowledge is very important. We call it as Domain knowledge in IT field. The better you get at the work, more chances you have to know about the gaps in the process, or existing state of affairs. This will help you to come up with a solution that you can sell to companies similar to those you are working for. Any software developer who wants to make a similar product has a huge learning curve and need help from several companies like yours to explain the pain points. Look at very industry specific products – the key person would be a non-software developer who comes from the industry background.
Are you passionate about something and want to make that your J.O.B (Just.Own.Business), then nothing like it. It gives you pleasure, and you will be happy breathing it day-in and day-out. It no more remains a job but more of enjoying your hobby every single day.
#3. Experience in existing products
As you know more about some products and the gaps in them, for that particular business problem, it is best chance to fix them on your own. As you are the right person to identify the pitfalls with the current existing products, you can propose the solution to solve those.
Concentrate on your real strengths. No matter how much you try, you can’t compete on skills you do not possess currently. As an entrepreneur, concentrate on basic business concepts – everything else can be delegated / outsourced to someone else.
How to plan your start-up:
Once you nail down your contribution to the product, just make a document explaining the following points before you start-up.
#1. What is the current pain point that your start-up is planning to address?
You should write this up as this is the best method by which you are trying to explain what problem you are trying to solve. Write it elaborately so that a third person understands the issue. For example, consider you want to create a product where people can book doctor’s appointments online. You might write the problem statement as – “In the present scenario, with the busy schedule of people it is difficult for people to wait for hours together to get an appointment with a doctor. Also, people need to travel several times – to book an appointment and then for the actual appointment. It is also very difficult for new comers to a city to locate doctors nearby their location”.
#2. What is your solution for the same?
In this part, you explain how you are solving the issue. Keep in mind, for one problem we can have several different ideas to solve it. Do not hesitate to write your solution just because there are already different players in the market. When you have competition that means the market is existing. Just look for what unique value proposition you can provide to solve the problem. For the same case study I used above, we will provide following solution. “I want to solve the issues related to doctor’s appointment booking by providing a portal where all the doctors are listed. Users can search, filter or identify the doctor they want to take an appointment with and use a Book Now button to make an appointment with that doctor.” The solution can be very elaborate and creative as long as it serves the purpose.
#3. Who is your customer?
Specify who is getting benefited out of your system. What value you can provide them? In some cases, you will serve multiple types of customers. Be specific by not leaving the assumptions open-ended. You need to specify your market – specify for your location where you want to solve the issue first. Let it start with your current location and slowly spread to your nearby locations. List down types of people getting benefited from your solution – you need to place your product. For example, not all phone buyers in this world buy iPhone; its market is for premium customers. Similarly there is another low-end market where lot of Indian and Chinese phones dominate. So when you define your customer define the targets as well.
#4. What all parts are needed for the same?
Here, you define the end-to-end components of the solution. Just software cannot solve all the problems. You need to look at the software needs and all basic functions like marketing, sales, infrastructure, legal concerns etc. and identify what and how you need to operate.
#5. How to identify the core start-up team to build those solutions?
In this session you need to define your qualification criteria for selecting a vendor or partner to develop your product. If I were you, I would not go for the lowest and highest bids. Look for average bids and track their success. Make sure your goals and values have higher priority by the provider / partner. Otherwise the engagement will head towards a disaster. Also identify your employees or other vendors for operations as well.
#6. How much money needed for building and marketing the solution?
Dream big, but start small. Keep your expenses low – do not go for a fancy office in the beginning. You may even start with a small office at your home. Employ only necessary people in the beginning. If you do not have to have the task recurring, outsource it. For example the development task of the product can be outsourced. But marketing, sales and support staffs should be employed for the growth of the company. Analyze how much money you need, to achieve all these things and make the budget plan for at least the next 12 months.
#7. How are you planning to raise the required fund for start-up?
You can raise money in several ways. You may fund it all by yourself. You can get loans from banks and other institutions, or bring in investors and give them stake in the company. You define when you require money and how you bring that to the table.
#8.What is the expected revenue target in a given time frame?
Here, you plan about how to sell the product – monthly recurring income, upfront installation etc. Just remember – to make a million, you either need to sell at Rs 50,000 to 20 people or at Rs 500 to 2000 people. You need to define your expenses and analyze your competitor’s charges. Put your projections here, and analyze how and when you become profitable.
After following the steps we discussed above, you will be in a position to clearly see your start-up road map ahead. If you still find things that are not coming out the way you expected, which you will, pivot your plans. The idea is to reach the destination, you can always choose an alternate road. Once your plan gives you the confidence to take the next step, just go ahead and take the next step.
Journey of a start-up entrepreneur always starts solo. As you march ahead, you keep knowing people who also believe in your dream. However, it’s always you who has to take the first step.