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How to Know if Your Entrepreneurial Solution Makes Sense
Part 1 of the series “Risk & Reward: Navigating Your Road to Revenue”
Nov. 10, 2017
Starting a business is always challenging — statistics show that more than half of all companies fail in their first 10 years, and 75 percent of startups never return seed money to their investors. To paint a picture that’s even more dire, nearly 9 in 10 innovations fail in the marketplace.
There are many reasons for these failures, probably as many as the failed ventures themselves. At RevRoad, our team of experts has seen it all. We’ve had a lot of successes, and we’ve failed a few times too.
In this series, we plan to share many of those lessons with you. We are builders by nature, and we believe in entrepreneurs. We are confident that creativity, hard work and innovation are the building blocks of a better world for us all.
Starting from Scratch: Find Your Problem
The best business ideas don’t jump into their founder’s heads fully formed and ready to go to market. Instead, the best innovators spend a lot of time thinking about problems.
It starts with a basic premise: if you want to make money, you need to create something of value. The easiest way to do that is by solving problems for people, by fulfilling the needs they already have.
Fortunately, we are surrounded by problems. Next time you feel annoyed or feel the need to complain, jot it down in an idea book. Do the same when you hear other people complaining. Then, analyze what’s causing the problem. From there, start filling your head with ideas about how those problems could be solved.
Soon, you’ll have more solutions than you know what to do with. The next step is to decide on the right problem (and solution). First, your problem has to be a painful, either physically, financially or in terms of wasted time and energy for your potential customer. Next, it has to be a problem for a large number of people. Finally, it has to be a big enough problem that you can convince people to pay for your solution.
5 Simple Steps to Problem Validation
But how do you know if your problem meets that criteria? This process, known as problem validation, is difficult. But it’s not impossible. Below, I’ve laid out a few steps you can follow to make sure you’re on the right track.
1. Craft a predictive customer persona
This doubles down on the idea of a classic customer persona. It’s more than just a description of who you want your customer to be. Instead, it should describe the kind of person who is suffering from your problem, and suffering enough that they would buy your solution. I really like the way Laura Klein described the idea in the InVision blog.
Note: Don’t feel like you have to take on a large-scale market study here, but spend at least some time on research. Try typing your problem into a search engine to see what comes up. Look for discussion boards and forums, in particular, and read as much as you can.
2. Find at least 10 people who match that persona
This is where the real work begins. Do whatever it takes to find people who fit your predictive persona. Steer away from friends and family, as these people will be biased toward your idea because they naturally want to support you. Instead, find these would-be customers out in the wild. Organizations such as 1 million cups and industry-specific groups on social media can be a good place to start.
Note: If you can’t find at least 10 people with your problem, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. This is a pretty clear sign that your problem isn’t widespread enough. Just don’t give up too quickly — it’s normal to have multiple iterations at this early stage in the problem validation process. Go back to thinking about solvable problems and start over as many times as you need to.
3. Interview your customers to make sure solving your problem is a top priority
The next step is to schedule interviews with your would-be customers. This can be on the phone or in person. Start out by asking them about the problem you have chosen. Make a point of letting them talk; the more you get them complaining, the more information you have about what your solution should be. After they’ve said their piece, ask them if solving the problem would be a high priority for them. Have them rate the pain on the scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most painful.
Note: If you find people who have your problem but rate it below 7 or 8 on their personal pain scale, it might be time to pivot. To grow a successful enterprise, you will need to make sure you’re relieving a significant amount of pain. Think of it this way — you want your solution to be a “need to have” rather than a “want to have.”
Looking for inspiration? Check out the remarkable problem validation story of GoPlug, one of RevRoad’s Champions on the Road to Revenue.
4. Get customers to name a price
When you get your would-be customers to tell you they truly have a problem and that it is a painful one, they will be primed to hear about your solution. Before the interview ends, pitch them your idea. Tell them how you intend to fix their problem. Then, ask them how much it’s worth in monetary terms.
Note: If your would-be customers want your solution but aren’t willing to pay for it, it’s a sign that you haven’t chosen the right problem, or that your solution isn’t quite there yet. Don’t ignore this valuable piece of information. Getting it right before you start building will save you time, tears, and treasure in the long run.
5. Find multiple buyers, or pivot before it’s too late
You don’t need to get all 10 of your would-be customers to commit to spending money on your project. But if you can’t get at least a handful of them to do so, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Note: If you can’t get traction at this stage, be sure to ask would-be customers what’s stopping them. Really listening to their objections is your path to a good pivot and, ultimately, to profitability.
Conclusion: Pitch Before You Build
We’ve laid out some pretty specific steps for how to validate your problem, but you don’t have to follow them precisely to ensure you have a good idea (the serial entrepreneurs here at RevRoad haven’t always, anyway). But whatever you do, make sure that you’re solving a real problem and that the market for a solution is big enough. It’s the only way to be confident that your idea will make you money.
About Rebecca Palmer
Rebecca is a seasoned writer, editor and strategic communications professional with 10 years of experience telling important stories. She started her career in journalism and transitioned her skills into marketing, public relations and content management. She believes in entrepreneurs, and believes in the power of research and analytical thinking to propel them toward success. When not helping other entrepreneurs achieve their dreams, Rebecca reads voraciously, runs a small violin studio and is (slowly and awkwardly) learning west coast swing dancing.
Nov. 10, 2017
Josh Cross started his career in post-production for stop motion films, working on projects in Hollywood with superstars such as producer Ron Howard, video producers Will Vinton and Brian Grazer, and actor/comedian Eddie Murphy, Richard Dreyfuss.
He enjoyed the work, he said, but wasn’t finding a lot of meaning or purpose in it. That’s when he moved to Utah to join the edtech company Imagine Learning. There, he started a video department that focused on telling stories about inequality in education. He and his team created over 8,000 videos for the product and in locations across the globe.
Josh didn’t know it at the time, but his career trajectory was far from over.
The Entrepreneurial Problem
As he traveled for Imagine Learning, Josh noticed that he kept running into the same problem: no way to plug in all his devices, including cameras, chargers, laptops, phones, and lighting equipment.
He lived with the problem for years, finding workarounds such as hooking into outlets behind couches in hotel lobbies. However, these ad-hoc solutions brought their own set of problems: namely, devices plugged into hidden outlets often got forgotten.
It didn’t take long for Josh to notice that many other people had the same problem. It was common to see people huddled around outlets in places like airports, and equally common for people to run out of juice and lose access to their technology in the field. The problem was painful, widespread and costly.
Josh started dreaming up solutions. Fairly quickly, he realized that all videographers — and travelers in general — had to carry bags. What if there were one piece of luggage that could power any device, anywhere?
The Solution: Built-In Power
Josh didn’t have any entrepreneurial experience, but he knew someone who might be able to help: his friend and mentor Derrin Hill. Despite feeling a bit apprehensive, Josh pulled Derrin aside one evening after work. He showed off his early design, built from a standard suitcase with a hole cut in the side.
“It was probably more of an embarrassing conversation than a strategic one,” Josh admitted.
Derrin was thrilled with the idea, and Josh grew more and more confident.
In 2014, the GoPlug project was featured on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. It was the first powered bag on the site, Josh said. Hundreds of people signed up to receive the powered bag when it was ready. For Josh, that was a sure sign that he was solving a real problem, and that there was a huge market willing to pay for his solution.
Soon, Josh was approached by the entrepreneurial pitch show Shark Tank. Because the product was not ready for market, he decided to decline the show’s offer, and got busy putting his idea into production.
Heavy, Competitive Obstacles
During the early stages of production, Josh noticed that many other companies had jumped on the powered bag bandwagon. Before he knew it, some of them made it to market.
Storms were also brewing on the homefront in innovation and design. Every prototype bag the team tried came out of production very heavy. For travelers, that was going to be unacceptable.
“We had to make a decision about whether to ship or refund,” Josh said. “We did the right thing. We refunded their money, with interest. We wanted to show that we were honest and a company that wasn’t out to steal their business.”
While the competition was pushing their own versions of heavy, powered bags on the market, Josh kept an eye on their success (or lack thereof).
“It turned out the other bags with built-in power didn’t do so well,” he said.
That’s when GoPlug decided to pivot. Josh and his team spent almost a year designing, creating and manufacturing the world’s first smart power bank, which could be easily moved from bag to bag.
“Anything you can plug into a wall can be plugged into the GoPlug SMART Power Bank,” according to the Goplugbags.com website. “Power or charge laptops, video projectors, tablets, phones, camera batteries, and much more– all at the same time. Not only is it powerful, it’s small and lightweight.”
GoPlug took off, and developed a line of portable power products — including solar-powered options. In 2017, it was recognized by CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) with an innovation award.
Another pivot led to an increased emphasis on technology to track and monitor powered bags through GPS technology. Now, GoPlug travelers can monitor where their bags are at any given time through an app on their phone.
By years’ end, traditional luggage companies were taking notice. Currently, GoPlug is in beginning stages of sale or licensing negotiations with several large-scale bag companies that are interested in purchasing GoPlug’s technology.
The Soul of a Startup
Josh is modest about his ideas, and unassuming in his demeanor. He doesn’t want to take too much credit, and is quick to point to one group of people he relied on every step of the way:
“My family is totally supportive,” he said. “There’s no way you can do this without them.”
Josh has since left the world of videography to work as an entrepreneur full time.
“How I feel about being an entrepreneur depends on the day,” he said. “Everybody dreams of having wild success from the start, but realistically, it’s a journey.”
He chuckled, adding that leading a startup is more work than he could have imagined.
“You quit a 40-hour job to take on a 120-hour-a-week business,” he said. “You have to decide what you want to compromise. I’m glad I’ve done this.”
Stay tuned to find out what’s next for GoPlug.
Meet the RevRod, the vehicle of choice on our road to revenue! This 1949 Chevrolet Half Ton was rebuilt in St. George, Utah, and will be shipped to Provo just in time for the grand opening celebration on Nov. 16, 2017.
Photo Credit: McKay Kriser, RevRoad Audio / Video Engineer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 1, 2017
Utah’s newest business accelerator has relocated to new headquarters in Provo. Anyone interested in entrepreneurship is welcome to come see what it’s all about at an open house celebration, to be held Nov. 16 from 3–7 p.m.
RevRoad was founded because 9 in 10 innovations fail in the marketplace. But with RevRoad’s experienced team on their side, entrepreneurs are far more likely to succeed.
Each quarter, RevRoad accepts a crew of Roadies (portfolio companies) and keeps them on board for 24 months. Roadies get to focus on their big idea while RevRoad helps take care of everything they need: a mentor who’s been in their shoes, key service deliverables, and sweet open office space (we also offer shoulders to cry on, as needed, and a break room full of frosted animal crackers and breakfast cereal).
RevRoad offers services hubs in what is called the RevRoad Exchange; it includes strategy, marketing, video production, tech development, sales, systems, legal help and more. Get the details at https://www.revroad.com/exchange-system.
In its first quarter, RevRoad is helping Roadies develop leading-edge products such as devices that sanitize phones using UV light, on-the-go power, and scientific sleep systems, plus groundbreaking artificial intelligence technology, and easy-to-use language learning software for educators.
RevRoad accepts a small equity share from Roadies rather than accepting cash for services or providing capital directly. This aligns RevRoad’s goals with the goals of the entrepreneur or business owner.
“If you look at startups, one of the biggest problems they have at the beginning is cash,” said cofounder and CEO Derrin Hill. “We don’t want to provide all these great services and then take more cash out of the business.”
In comparison, most other incubators and accelerators put their portfolio companies through short programs, graduate them and have them seek funding by pitching to multiple investors as a group.
The team of cofounders and the dynamic RevRoad staff are guided by a shared passion: to help innovation-driven entrepreneurs succeed.
New Location Grand Opening
RevRoad is planning an open house celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony in its new headquarters and welcomes anyone interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, and growing Utah companies to stop by.
- When: Thursday Nov. 16, 3-7 p.m. (Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to begin at 4 p.m.)
- Where: RevRoad HQ, 1555 N. Freedom Boulevard, Provo UT
- Why: Inspiration, networking, swag, and a chance to learn more about RevRoad
- RSVP: Please click here to let us know you’re coming