You have an idea for a startup…now what?

Entrepreneurship is really hard, but it’s not complicated.

There’s certainly no shortage of resources. Countless writers have written endless tomes on startup successes and startup theory.

But each resource is an isolated body of knowledge:

  • Some tell you about how to use a tool;
  • Others are reference volumes of kinds of tools;
  • And most just tout the success of others.

None of those books, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos tell you how to turn an idea into a business.

So most founders end up as avid researchers, but not doers.

So why don’t we ever write it down?

Because it’s not complicated.

In fact, it’s getting started is only 3 steps:

Step 1: Who & where is the customer?

At the center of any business model is the customer, so start by creating a persona.

A persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer — the one with whom you most want to work, who most wants to work with you.

You may not have a lot of detail yet, but include as much as you have:

  • Background
  • Demographics
  • Personality
  • Influences
  • Interests
  • Motivations & goals
  • Frustrations
  • Wants, needs, & fears
  • Etc

And don’t forget the most neglected question: where are these people? Becuase you can’t build a business around a customer you can’t find.

I know it sounds crazy-specific. Because it is. Your goal is to get so specific that it makes you uncomfortable.

Then get two clicks more specific.

You can snag my personas template here, along with a video overview.

By the way, if you have more than one customer, you need more than one persona.

Bonus tip: if everything seems like a guess, it might be time to step back and interview some customers.

Step 2: What is the moment of greatest value?

You started with a statup idea, and you layered in some ideas about the customer. Now, it’s time to find the one moment of the entire customer journey that delivers the most value to the customer.

This is the moment of greatest value (MGV), aka the “wow” or “magic” moment.

It’s the moment where your customer’s eyes light up. It’s the part of their journey with you that makes it all worth while. Everything else was building to this moment, and, when the customer sees it, their eyes light up.

And they go, “wow!”

If you’re old enough to remember life before Uber, think about the first time you used it. It wasn’t anything like leaning over a street curb with your thumb out, or asking the concierge to call you a cab, and then waiting and wishing and hoping and never knowing what the fare would be until you arrived.

Instead, you just… opened the app. The customer’s reaction?

“Oh my gosh! I just clicked this thing and it said Joe will be arriving in 6 minutes in a white Ford Bronco with this license plate number, and it’ll cost me $9.17 to get to my destination. Wow!”

The easiest way to find your MGV is to write down your startup idea in a complete “user journey map”. It documents every step the customer takes from encountering your product or service, evaluating it, purchasing it, using it, and getting support for it.

The journey goes from life without you, to the better life you’re promising them.

And, yeah… I’ve got a user journey template too, along with a video overview.

Once you have a journey written down, follow along it. Where is the MGV? Where is the magic, the wow, that Uber moment?

Step 3: Test it with real customers

All we have are crazy ideas and cockamamie schemes.

If we’re being charitable, we might call hypotheses. At best? They’re scientific wild-ass guesses. And we have to validate them.

Come on, you knew this was coming.

So find the smallest, leanest, lightest, cheapest way to create your moment of greatest value with real customers, to see if you get that “wow” reaction. I call these rapid prototypes, and I’ve talked about them before.

It’s simple:

  • Create the prototype. We’re talking hours of effort. Not days, not weeks, not months.
  • Don’t show it to customers. Put it in their hands.
  • Have them narrate while using it.
  • Look for the whites of their eyes (wow!).

If you don’t get, collect everything you’ve learned and return to step 1.

Since you know who, where, and what, the inteview is the most straightforward part of all. So simple that it’s dumb.

Yet, it’s the hardest step.

From deep inside you will come a strong force, urging you to complicate things.

It isn’t complicated, but it’s really vulnerable. So we make it complicated to avoid being vulnerable. Because, if it’s complicated, we can think about it some more, and customers won’t crush our dreams.

Resist the urge. Violently.

Grab a few of those customers, put your prototype in their hands, and see if the moment materializes.

And… I’ve got no template for this, my friend. We’ve been on this journey together, but the interview? This part you do alone.

In summary? Build a business before you build a product.

Nowhere in here did we create any product, because we don’t care.

Product is the easy part.

The hard part is finding out whether customers want it, and whether they’ll pay for it. It’s proving your product is desirable, and that it’s viable.

In other words, don’t waste your time building something no one wants.


When you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you.

  1. Ask me a question during my weekly office hours  (Thursdays at 11am pst).
  2. Work 1:1 with me to tackle the most challenging parts of the startup journey (100+ first-time founders).
  3. Run a design sprint with your venture-backed startup team to find traction fast (dozens of startups).

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