With five startups in Year One Labs (all at various stages of our process), you start to see some fairly clear patterns. One of the biggest hurdles at Year One Labs is moving from the Probe Phase to the MVP Phase. I’ve talked about this process in more detail a few times. The gist of it is that a startup at Year One Labs needs to provide enough validation that their idea is worth developing into a minimum viable product to get from the first phase to the second. The process typically starts with customer interviews, after defining the hypotheses and value proposition for the idea. Some of our companies created Lean Canvases as well.
The challenge is in how you define “enough validation.” In my previous post I talked about the difficulty of defining success. Without an agreed upon goal in mind for an experiment, there’s no way to prove or disprove that you’re heading in the right direction. So you need some kind of definition of success. But that’s incredibly hard to define up-front – most startups don’t know what it should be, and most don’t have the discipline to really put a line in the sand.
With or without a definition of success, what I’ve seen out of Year One Labs (and my own experience looking back, and in many discussions / advisory sessions with other startups) is that startups need to find the one thing that’s so obviously compelling that it justifies continuing. Without that one thing to hang your hat on (or more importantly hang your entire startup on), a startup flails around and struggles.
- Early on, it’s best not to focus on a lot of different metrics. Better to pick one or two that you think are the most meaningful. A startup’s “one thing” might come out of that.
- But it might come out of something else, like the startup’s brand or culture, or one specific feature that creates significant differentiation and more clarity on how the startup can move forward.
Startups need that “one thing.”
For Localmind it was people’s willingness to answer questions. That’s where it started, even at Localmind’s earliest stages when it was just a web application. The next “thing” came when Robert Scoble declared Localmind the best app at SXSW. That “one thing” skyrocketed Localmind in an amazing way. It’s important to remember that neither of these things alone come anywhere near to making Localmind a massive success. But they were enough to say, “OK, we’ve got something here. Let’s keep going.”
For Highscore House, their “one thing” was an incredibly successful survey that showed a very high level of interest in their value proposition. That was followed by the high conversion they got from early advertising, even when there was no product at all.
Some of these things were by design, through experimentation. Some were just luck. But even months after these trigger points (which helped move these companies from the Probe Phase to the MVP Phase), you can still see the impact they’re having on the startups. The early “one thing” hooks that made us all say, “We’ve found something to focus on,” continue to impact these startups in significant ways from their stories, to fundraising, branding, product development, and more.
Startups need to find their “one thing” to focus on. It provides (at least some) clarity on how to proceed and helps shape what’s to come.