Another important building block for your startup is the aspect of research. Research has many faces and phases, but the two that are most important in startup environments are:
(1) research that supports your claims and assumptions theoretically (which can be ahead of time)
(2) validation of that research that confirms it practically.
When you’re starting up, it’s just the idea, the founder(s) and that’s it. There is often no backup for how likely and viably the idea will transform into a success, or even, how big the need for it really is.
This is because the very best ideas are ahead of their time and while we also need solutions for the problems of the present, staying ahead of the game and being able to see what’s behind the curve is what often separates average from highly successful growth ventures. It’s those ideas that create solutions for problems that don’t exist, or we can’t see, which can open or create new markets and lead to enormous opportunities.
Entrepreneurs will often carry an idea around for years, then create a product and a team to take it to market when they feel the time is right. But that’s doesn’t mean everybody else will view the world in the same way. And this is where the first aspect of research comes in.
Being able to support your idea with research around the subject matter, the problems you’re trying to solve and the markets that are likely to evolve or get created is very powerful and goes a long way in finding investors, getting PR and convincing early employees it’s the right time to join the team. It also helps to structure your product or service with milestones that give it a minimum viable strategy to launch, without losing the bigger picture.
Here are some ways you can gather this research:
- Working with universities. Often there is private and government support available to help fund research done in universities, especially if that research may lead to intellectual property or underlines a possible commercial application of the idea.
- Buying materials from a wide variety of research and and advisory companies – they are often specialised around a specific industry.
- Tapping into the resources of your New Zealand Trade and Enterprise office. They usually have a lot of market information and statistics – but you should know what you want.
- Creating surveys, polls and materials that support your theory. Infographics and social media are great ways to ask for data and to communicate your findings.
- Discussing with or interviewing well known futurists and thought leaders in your space. Ideally they’ll mention why and when they think your approach will work.
There are many more – even going out on the street and interviewing people can be an option – though the results may not carry the same weight as some of the other techniques mentioned before.
Sometimes just involving a friend in a conversation can go a long way.
In 1999 the Dalai Lama started an initiative called the World Festival of Sacred Music. I somehow managed to get the contract to develop the website for this prestigious event and I decided to do proper research around the best practises for building websites at the time.
I clearly remember one of my classmates, who was studying IT at the time, pushing me to use CSS (cascading style sheets), a technology that’s absolutely standard today, but was hardly used in 1999.
The ‘research over a beer’ eventually paid off, making it much easier to update the website when I later had to manage a variety of changes in fonts and layout.
As for the second type of research, it doesn’t come without validation.
You may be able to support your theories with research, but if you can’t validate that research’s findings practically (ideally by product-market fit), you’re back to square one.
In the bootstrapping process – and once the founders have aligned themselves – get some support for your theories by doing research. Also, ideally over a longer period of time, do some market validation before adding more team members and building the product out too far.
This will help avoid the illusion of safety from a research and sales perspective, while being able to keep backing up claims in building out a company.
Research helps to stabilise your idea and the assumptions around it. Combined with a continuous validation process, you will know where on the curve you’re truly standing.