After hosting over 700 events and nearly 80,000 people, Startup Weekend has an incredibly unique view of the pre-startup stage in particular. Witnessing this process has carved out a few key means that startups should keep in mind, especially as they develop in early stages. Concepts like "teams are more valuable than ideas" and "funding doesn't equal success" have proved to be valuable mentalities to maintain.
Repeated mistakes create patterns that are easy for startups to fall into. Often, simply asking the right initial questions can prevent this from happening. For entrepreneurs especially, asking questions is a skill that cannot be underestimated. An entrepreneur should not only consider how to ask a question altogether, but also how to ask the right question(s), and who to ask. All of these are separate and valuable abilities.
Here are some important areas that startups should devote their attention to, especially in the beginning:
Do I have the right co-founding team?
Some of the most relevant questions that startups should be focused on are related to the company's mission. Building a team involves finding people who share a similar vision; so asking questions about motivations and goals is a good entry point. Be sure you know the answer to questions like, "What truly motivates you?" or "What do you think our company culture is?" -- and find out, from experience, how your co-founders deal with stress, deadlines, conflict, failure, and success, to name a few.
Compatibility is also crucial, as co-founders are likely to spend 80+ hours with each other. If it becomes clear that there are opposing views or work styles, you might have to ask more difficult questions, such as, "When do I know it's time to cut ties with a co-founder or employee?" and "How should we handle a co-founder split? Who can make the decision and for what reasons?"
When it comes to forming the right team, it is important to ask the difficult questions, as well as the easy ones. This ensures that all team members are accurately placed according to skill set -- even if that means one team member ends up doing something other than what they originally intended.
Eventually, if companies see significant growth, co-founders may also have to ask, "Am I willing to hand off leadership?"
Am I solving a real problem?
Startups have to be able to understand their market with a great deal of depth. Not only that, but co-founders must also ensure that their product is good for that market. If founder/market and product/market are a good fit, things will take shape more fluidly, and the company is more likely to be sustainable.
Startups often believe they are solving a problem only to dedicate time and resources to a product that doesn't offer a real solution. To avoid this, try conducting a "Total Addressable Market" exercise to test if your idea actually addresses a large enough crowd to make it worthwhile. Some brainstorming questions that help clarify your business model might be, "Does the customer care? Why?" "Is there potential to expand the market in the future?" "Who is my competition, and why am I unique and better?" It is possible for startups to develop a real solution, but successful companies need to go further and create a product that has longevity and growth potential as well.
As markets and demand fluctuate, co-founders should continue to ask themselves, "Is our product still the most relevant solution to our identified problem? How has this problem evolved since the genesis of our company and how can we stay ahead of it?" In other words, make sure you can keep providing your customer with solutions and reasons to remain loyal to your product.
Does everything line up?
These two areas -- team building and idea development -- should inevitably encourage constant self-assessment for early-stage startups. Be vigilant about your overall mission to ensure that you have built an ideal team that believes in the same "ideal" product. These two areas should naturally align if they are approached correctly... and then you might really have something.
At that point, make sure everyone is on board for long hours, heated debates, tons of stress, financial hardship, and above all, hustling.
Follow Marc Nager on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marcnager