Launching Your Idea

First Things First - Launch and Test Your Idea

Traditionally we have thought about "launch" as meaning putting a product up for sale to the market - we have a product launch plan and date.  However, today with our shift toward Lean processes we find that rather than a linear process we have an iterative process.  This causes us to rethink the meaning of "launch." For our purposes we consider the launch of an idea to be the initial launch of a product and company.  It remains to be seen whether it succeeds or fails.

First we launch the project.  Then along the way we have several other launches, including the more formal Product Launch. We get to the formal launch after we have worked through the process of determining that the customer and market is there and that we are building the right product for them, and that there is a sufficiently sized market for us to believe we will be satisfied with our endeavor. Getting the customer and market correct is accomplished by focusing on Achieving Product-Market Fit.  While this is the primary focus for this Startup Phase, we also need to pay attention to getting ready for the Transition Stage.  So in In addition to Product-Market fit, we need to concern ourselves with building the initial team, some amount of financing (even with the Lean approach money and particularly case, is important.)

As we have discussed, the Transition Phase may in fact be the most important in terms of survival.  So as hard as it may be to dedicate some thinking and planning to that next phase, it is wise to do so.  As much as possible, getting the founding team right, or as close to right as it can, will help considerably.  Going into the Transition Phase with a team that needs mending, or worse yet, replacement, is a good way to stumble. Many ventures fail due to problems among the troops. In the early stage of most startups, the team is usually spirited and optimistic.  And that is great when everything goes smoothly.  Everything changes however, and so while picking all the right people at the start would be great - it is probably better to plan for change ahead of time, and provide a way for the startup to deal with it.

A brief word on building the first team is in order.  Since things change, flexibility is a good attribute in a person on the early team.  Teaming up with someone at the start of a project that you know is inflexible, even if they are an acquaintance or friend, can often spell trouble later on. Did you just meet the person and have both of you fallen in love with the product idea? That's nice to have a potential new teammate, but certainly you should be looking politely into this person's background.

Often young entrepreneurs think that teaming up with a longtime good friend is a great way to go. It can be, or it can damage a good longstanding friendship. One of the best teams I ever saw amazed me with how well they worked together. In a meeting I observed they assembled and jumped right into the discussion. There was a clear leader, and he spoke but he also took a lot of input. In fact he had a habit of going around the room asking for each person's opinion. The other's were equally impressive as one member went to the white board to take notes, another opened up a notebook to prepare and then asked who wanted coffee - and then he hustled off and brought some into the room. Another member strolled into the room with two bottled waters and handed one to the leader and set the other at his spot. Then he announced he was printing out the document and would distribute copies in a moment. The meeting was well run, a lot was accomplished, people argued openly and then they resolved things.  People seemed to have pre-defined roles. The leader considered everyone's ideas and then explained what he thought and what he wanted the team to do.  Sometimes he went with the teammates' idea sometimes his own. There was absolutely no bitterness or dissent, every.  After, I told the leader that I was impressed with the meeting and the teamwork. He said "Yeah, it's very exciting to be working with my old teammates.  We came in second in the state football conference, it was a brutal defeat, and we all propped each other up. We know the taste of defeat. We were, are, a heckuva team. I love these guys." If you have got that kind of history with your founding team, it might make a lot of sense. A "heckuva" lot of sense!

In all cases, even the case of the footballers going into business, plan for change. Most entrepreneurs establish a fixed equity split ahead of the venture or at least early on.  And then change hits. The idea becomes completely different and the initial idea-person who was given extra equity now has too much in the eyes of others. The person who found the new direction wonders why she is not the money-person now! It seems unfair to others on the team as well, and morale is shaken. Another member decides to leave because the business is no longer a good fit for his interests.  And he is taking his equity right along with him. There you are looking excitedly at moving into the critical Transition Phase, and your team is falling apart! Thankfully we have a solution for this and it works really well. It is called Dynamic Equity and it provides a way to allow change in team membership over time so adding and losing people is not going to kill the company.

So moving into this lesson, you the Founder are focused on achieving product-market fit, as well as building the best team you can while planning for change. By planning for change and building a Dynamic Equity program, you are establishing a culture that should be perceived as fair.  A perception of fairness will create trust and that is a solid foundation upon which to build your venture.