Posted by:Sanket Nikte
startup fever is upon us and nobody’s immune. If the WhatsApp acquisition for a cool $19 billion spurred you, our very own homegrown unicorn, Flipkart, with it’s nearly $16 billion valuation has surely invigorated you. For a startup, there’s no time like the present time. Borrowing a leaf from Charles Dickens, these are the best of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the epoch of belief, it is the season of Light, it is the spring of hope.
Every other day there’s news of a startup raising $100 million, hiring people by the truckloads and reaching dizzying heights. You also want to get in on the mercurial train and leave your mark on the world. Before you do, take a step back, lay down your groundwork first using this simple mnemonic- I Make Today’s News (Ideation, Market Research, Traction and Name).
“Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
There is a rush, an exhilaration and a pride seldom found in anything else than being the progenitor of an idea. The “eureka” moment, however eloquently described, can never match to the actual experience.
There are volumes written on the procedures of getting an idea but the fact remains that, very much like Archimedes, an idea can be generated in the most menial of tasks and innocuous surroundings. Observation and analysis is the Druid’s recipe for a good idea. Observe your surroundings- no disrespect, but India is a land of problems. Problems equal opportunities, as our erstwhile neighbor says. Analyzing the perfect way to capture an opportunity gives birth to an idea.
Pain Point vs. Product Gap
The opportunity observed can be a pain point or a product gap. A pain point is when you look for a problem that people are facing and take active measures to solve it. This can be either by innovating a concept or improving upon an existing one and improving or pivoting it radically. This approach excites investors the most because it almost guarantees a definite market for the product. The Hövding airbag helmets would be a great modern day example of innovative product. On the other hand, Whatsapp would be an apt example of a radical improvement over an existing technology or combination of two technologies. It expanded upon the basic idea of an SMS and thought of how to make it even faster and better as a mode of communication through the technology of mobile internet.
Process of ideation through Pain Point
Lets’ try and break this down into some semblance of a process. Consider the problems you face on a regular basis, the higher the frequency of the problems, the better. A textbook example is the latest offering from Deluxe Elite Info Solutions is a patent pending virtual app store platform marketplace. On the genesis of the idea, Virat Kothare, co-founder, says, “I had a personal issue of handling day to day tasks and wanted some processes to work digitally for me to save time money and effort but the current scenario everywhere stuck with single platform and every time I buy new phone or lost and generally need to download, install, update and upgrade apps which was making process more difficult therefore I wanted to change the concept and bring digitally to a new dimension and help people save time, money, energy and efforts.” [sic].
Talk to other people to see if this is a common problem. If you are the only one, you just might be high maintenance- move on. Another way would be to go around talking to people with a list of questions and conducting a quick survey. Spend 5 – 10 minutes with every interviewee. Make sure that all the subjects belong to a similar type of demographic. “Listening” on internet forums where people are venting their frustrations or social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as blogs can be used for understanding pain points. Once you have a sizeable sample size, distill the problems into categories until you have found a common and recurring theme. That’s your focus area. Now think of possible solutions. An important caveat to remember is to not falling into the trap of tunnel vision. Don’t approach with bias or prejudice or you will create a problem where none exists and build a product that has no use for anyone.
Building a product and then creating a need for it can be termed as the product gap. You observe a given product line and understand a certain requirement that is not being fulfilled by the existing product and try to fill in the gap. This again can be by innovating a product or carving a niche out of an existing product. Many top brands in the world and products are built on this need e.g. carbonated water or cola’s are types of product gaps through innovation. All the line extensions of bottled water like oxidised water, sparkling water, fresh water, mineral water etc. are carving out niches in the bottled water category. The book “The Origin of Brands” by Al and Laura Ries enumerates this concept of new product categories very well. Needless to say, it takes more effort to build a business by identifying a product gap.
Don’t fall in the “Not Me Too” trap
Another important to remember would be the “Not Me Too” trap. There are many almost entrepreneurs who don’t start simply because there is already someone in the market doing what they want to. A “me too” idea if executed well, and if possible, with exemplary distinctions from the original idea, works wonderfully.
B’Brainiac, a year old startup in child brain development and fingerprint analysis, is established on this credo. Although there were others offering this service, they figured that they would hold an edge over them due to superior quality through technology investment and being one of the few organized players in the market. There are other famous brands that provide testimony to this. Pepsi and Coca-Cola, the new crop of mobile phone manufacturers; for the techies.
DuckDuckGo, a search engine built in 2008- after decades of virtual Google monopoly- and generating a million hits a day in a few months time; closer to home, take the example of Ola Cabs and Uber, Snapdeal and Flipkart. Even if there is someone at the top, there is always a chance for a second position and in time, even toppling the lead which is what Snapdeal plans to do to Flipkart. DuckDuckGo is a good example on how to build from a product gap and beating the “me too” trap. Its basic principle is of protection of user’s privacy. This simple factor is its selling point. This has allowed it to beat Google’s virtual monopoly and generate such an overwhelming popularity.
If the process of ideation still seems overwhelming to you, fret not. There are a few tricks or tools that can be used to develop an idea. Mind mapping is a great resource. It basically involves throwing out everything you get on a paper and advancing tangentially or sequentially from it until you hit upon the final idea.
A single idea can generate multiple radials and that can go on increasing exponentially. E.g. You have identified a pain point, say customer issues with the medical industry. That is the starting point.
Now, in this age of technology, if you do not prefer the retro way of using a pen and paper, fret not, there are various online tools available for you. Mindmeister is one where you can prepare a mind map easily and comfortably.
Follow your Passion
After this process, you might be experiencing Sophie’s choice, which idea to keep alive.
A few points to remember here; choose the one you are most passionate about. Starting a venture takes a lot of hard work and courage not to mention the innumerable sacrifices and disappointments to be faced along the way. As Swami Vivekanand aptly said, “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success”. If you start with something that you are not passionate about, you will lose motivation after the first few speed bumps. That is where everything will start going south and you will be setting yourself up for failure. Next, consider where yours or your team skill sets lie. Art of war 101, play to your strengths. You may not have all of the required skills but you should have some. Otherwise, there is a steep learning curve ahead for you that you must be ready to climb.
A Few More Questions to Answer
Another important point, understand your market size. This is crucial in the near future especially fund raising and determining the potential of your startup. How many people will actually need your product? How often will it be used? Even after all these, you may still have a few ideas left in the kitty. Vet them all. Even if you narrowed it to one, still vet it. Talk to the potential consumers. Understand their response. Validate your assumptions. If they seem interested, you are good to go.