Based on decades of experience ideating, validating, creating, growing, and funding startups from both sides of the table, we - the partners and advisors behind Prota Ventures - have developed the following framework and corresponding web app to help entrepreneurs with the first critical steps of their journey:
While oriented toward startups that are building a software product where raising outside capital is a possibility, the framework has also proven to be extremely helpful for many different types of for- and non-profit ventures.
Our goal is to help founders build upon the traditional business plan and ideation tools out there to focus on executing what matters: acquiring and retaining happy, paying customers.
Why is this venture important to you? What does the world look like when you are enormously successful? What problem are you solving? What specific products/services do you plan to build and deliver? What are your value and growth hypotheses and how are you planning to prove or disprove them with data?
Boil down the vision, problem you are solving, and solution you are providing into a three-sentence overview statement so your early team, influencers, and advisors can quickly understand what you are up to.
Is your market big enough to warrant moving forward? How do you know? Who are your competitors? Why is your product/service significantly better than the current solution out there? How will you make money? Are there sufficient margins available in the market to build a viable business? Why is now the right time to launch and grow this venture? Are there any show-stopping regulatory or tax issues?
Who are your customers? What are the demographic and sociographic profiles of the people who will make the decision to buy? Where do they hang out? How can you successfully acquire them?
Are you the CEO? How do you know? Do you have a co-founder? Do you have the appropriate engineering, creative, and customer acquisition skills on your team to start building a successful venture?
Collect survey data from potential customers to validate their problem, their profile, and your solution. Ensure that you are conducting a smart experiment; i.e. that no matter the result you will be learning something meaningful about your venture.
Talk to a large number of potential customers (the actual decision-makers) and learn the important nuances of their profile, their pain points, and their desired solution.
Have you landed a lead advisor? How is this person valuable to you, your team, and your business? Keep things informal to start. Work on landing additional advisors so you have a well-connected and experienced team behind you to cheer you on, guide you through difficult times, and coach you toward success.
Conduct smartly designed and free (or low cost) experiments to further validate what you've learned from surveys and interviews. Be sure to capture contact info of people who will be eager to learn when your product/service is available.
Put together a detailed timeline of sprints and milestones needed to build your product and get through launch and your initial growth. Is your team on the same page? Have your advisors agreed it is a reasonable plan?
Write up a high-level, "view-by-view" story of your initial product from the perspective of your customers. Get your team on the same page and have the hard conversations now about your product direction.
Funnel Stages & KPIs
Have you thought carefully about your customer acquisition and engagement funnels? Have you baked these measurements into your product? Have you developed daily reporting mechanisms? Are you actually looking at and studying the data regularly? Are you re-prioritizing growth and product tasks accordingly?
Translate your page-by-page, view-by-view "Overview Story" from before into a bullet list of each visual node in your product. From right-to-left, top-to-bottom, write out what the UI should look like. Debate this with your team and get on the same page.
Tech Stack Decisions
Pick an appropriate database, API language, front-end, and mobile stack for your web/mobile product. If you're not building a software product, have you decided how to build your website?
Make smart decisions about where your data will be stored and how it will flow through your architecture. What data will you store in your database? What will you push to third-party services? Why?
UX Flow Chart
Create a flow chart of each visual node of your product and how they are linked together based on the desired experience of your users.
Put together your brand values, brand persona, and a moodboard (i.e. a collage of images that describe the desired mood and potential colors of your visuals).
Pick a name that isn't used legally and/or functionally elsewhere. Reserve the appropriate domains and social media namespaces.
Have you decided on a wordmark? A symbol/icon? Are you going to launch with just a wordmark to start and develop the symbol/icon later to save time?
Put together a financial model and use it to smartly forecast your revenue and expenses. Are you building a business that can be profitable? Where is the initial startup capital coming from?
Build a prototype of the web/mobile visual elements in order to decide how your product will ultimately look and feel.
Based on the UI Spec, with increasing fidelity, create sketches of the architecture of each visual node in your product and link to the images from the corresponding nodes in the UX flow chart.
Save time by only building the smallest possible set of mockups needed before you crank out the prototype.
Have your UI developer build a functioning prototype of your product. Make sure it is built in a way that is easy for your engineer to hook up.
Have your UI developer and engineer finish building a functional product and deploy it on a staging server. Make sure our advisors and very close friends have played around with it and given feedback.
Coming Soon Page
Launch a "Coming Soon" page to let your network know that your product is on the way. Have them sign up with basic contact info to get in the queue for your private beta. Identify key influencers in your queue that you should be talking to for upcoming marketing purposes.
Is your production environment setup and ready to serve users from your queue? Are you happy with the initial engagement data you are collecting as you invite people in? What product features need to change?
Did you put together a solid product launch strategy? Are journalists writing about you? Is your network ready to help promote you? Is your product ready for a hopefully massive spike in engagement?
Fix bugs and make fast iterations of features based on user data. Don't forget to continue spending time talking to customers. And be sure to grow your product and marketing teams appropriately.
Exploring Product-Market Fit
Continue running smart experiments on both the growth and product sides of your business to search for significant spikes in customer acquisition and engagement.
When/if to raise money
Should you apply for an accelerator? Should you be talking to angel investors and/or early-stage venture capitalists? Should you raise money? If so, how much should you raise and what funding mechanism should you choose?
Have you put together an executive summary, pitch deck, and high-level financial summary? Are you guiding investors through these materials in person or over the phone rather than discussing over email?
Closing your first round
Pitch the appropriate angel investors and/or early-stage venture capitalists in your startup community. Do they have connections and/or experience to help your venture grow? How are you balancing your time? How are you coping with all the inevitable feet-dragging and indecisive investors?
Communicating with investors
Keep your investors and advisors updated regularly. Be sure to share both the good things and the bad things (investors are people, too). Finally, think carefully about how to best leverage their experience and networks.
We've built a collaborative online tool to help guide founders through the Startup Rocket framework and improve operational efficiency. We also have personalized coaching available to help take your business to the next level.