No problem – no startup. Every successful startup solves a problem. Without a problem, there is no solution and therefore no business. If you want to succeed on Startup Weekend, you’ll have to quickly validate that your idea solves a real problem in order to have enough time to build the right prototype and prepare the business case. 95% of teams that I mentored during four or five Startup Weekends used the wrong approach to validating the problem and their ideas. Therefore, they had to double (or even triple) their effort if they wanted to fix it and still get a chance to succeed. I am going to quickly explain you what is the mistake and how to avoid it to validate whether your idea solves a real problem.
You validate whether your idea solves a real problem by doing customer interviews and asking them questions. If you only assume that everyone would like what you are doing because you like it, you can stop doing it right now.
“Assumption is a mother of all screw ups.”
If you aren’t Steve Jobs or Henry Ford, validating whether your idea solves a real problem is much safer way to start working on your startup. So let’s imagine that it’s 1999 and you just had an idea of a small music device that could store hundreds of songs – iPod. What would you ask the potential customers during the customer interviews? The teams that make the mistake and use wrong question would ask something like the following:
“Hey, would you mind answering a quick question? I’ve got this idea and would like to know, if you’d like having your music stored in a digital format instead of a CD and thus being able to listen to many more songs than you usually are?”
The answer to such question would almost always be similar to “That sounds like a great idea!”. The reason is that people would like to have many things. Flying cars for example. But that doesn’t mean that they need them and are going to pay for them at this time.
It happened because the idea was pitched as a part of the problem validation. Pitching the idea will very likely bias or influence the answer. In this very early stage, you don’t need to validate whether the potential customers like your idea. Instead, you need identify whether the problem that you want to resolve is big enough for them. Therefore, validate the problem, not the idea. I believe that the best way to do so is to use the three magic questions that I’ve seen introduced by Lean Startup Machine. There are some variations of them of course, but the logic behind stays the same.
1. What’s your biggest problem when doing the ABCXYZ?
This tells you what the people really think about it and what they consider a problem.
2. How often do you experience the problem and what do you do when it happens?
This shows you how big the problem is as well as what is the current solution. Do they experience it every day or only a few times a year? Of course, don’t ask this question when the person doesn’t have any problem.
3. If you had a magic wand, how would you resolve it?
This is a real magic. You will even learn what you need to do to resolve the problem.
That’s it, simple as it goes. Use these three magic questions, talk to real users and not only friends. You will not need more than an hour to validate whether your idea solves a real problem and keep working towards winning Startup Weekend.
Founder & CEO at Mentegram and entrepreneur innovating healthcare and mental health.
The development of the society can be attributed to trade. Communities which didn’t need to fight for everyday survival but were able to interact with surrounding tribes instead, exchanging goods or know-how, experienced a much faster growth. Famous ancient folks emerged from these communities. The trade and the need to record the harvest, important transactions and home accounting let to evolution of writing, education and to the establishment of institutional schooling.
Later it were the schools that enabled further growth of states and empires through preparing state officials who were needed to manage the state apparatus.
In modern history inventors and innovators created new equipment and technologies that brought more ease and quality into the life and work of people.
Trade – education – innovation. A modern society of tomorrow needs a combination of these three elements if it wants to continuously flourish. Institutions of middle and higher education are to produce educated and labour ready offspring. On the other hand especially the universities are expected to closely cooperate with the industry and develop new technologies that will help the local economies gain a position in the global marketplace. Sometimes the most important enterprises emerge from the least probable business alliances. All that is needed are the right business plan and commercial thinking.
It’s a good thing that Kosice has one such institution which focuses on research and development and is always ready to help with startup iniciatives and university spin-offs. The Technical University of Kosice founded their own startup centre and every year holds a contest of the student startups. Besides that TUKE is a stable partner of the Startup Weekend Kosice, providing their facilities to the contestants for the fourth time. It will be the third time that we meet in the wonderful space of the university library.
TUKE simply interconnects all three growth aspects in the right way and we are thankful for that.
Small and medium sized enterprises are the backbones of our economy. They employ the majority of the population, keep the money in circulation, and improve living standards. But is it really enough to keep the citizens satisfied? You probably know the crawling need to buy some nice home decorations, to plant a flowerbed in your fore garden or to go out in the evening and visit some exquisite performance or exhibition. The beauty around us is the famous cherry on top of the cake that makes our lives complete. That’s why it is so important to support culture and art around us.
In this sense our big appreciation belongs to Creative Industry Košice. Their mission is a heritage of Kosice as European Capital of Culture 2013. Today CIKE tries to help creative people to become true professionals and enable them to further develop the cultural environment of Kosice.
The artists but also entrepreneurs are offered study trips abroad or courses with local and international mentors. They are shown how artist bring new insights into business and how business helps the artists to succeed.
If you feel that you are missing a little expertise or creativity, visit the web pages of Creative Industry (www.cike.sk) and find out what they have in store for you. Surely they will be able to help you strengthen the backbone of your business. Sometimes solutions to seemingly difficult problems are beautifully simple.
Have you ever read motivational books? Just don’t admit it. I know managers who are strongly against it. But I have a few such books under my belt and I realized there is one thought that repeats quite often – the environment can influence us. In the books one could find many examples of drug addicts, poor or miserable people who left their home town, community and family and became happier.
Well, it´s hard to believe these stories, but there is one slightly different thought that I personally have experienced many times: five people you meet the most determine who you are. Now, I don’t mean the door keeper you walk around 4 times a day. Nor is the number 5 important. But think for a moment, who are the people you talk to the most. Who do you go out with? Whom do you ask for advice and why? Did people think that you were brothers with your best pal? My best friend and I were mistaken for twins. 😛
I believe the people around us are important. Even more important is to belong to a community that will support us. You can´t find one? No problem with that. Have you realized how all around Kosice new hot spots are being created? Creative coffee shops, co-working spaces, regular business meetings. But if you think about starting your own initiative it’s easier said than done.
The first centre to be build for startups was Eastcubator. I was partly involved and to this day I am wondering how the guys managed to launch it successfully. From the beginning it was up and down from enthusiasm to disappointment when looking for the right space, raising money, slightly missing the right timing, looking for new people to join in. But the founders stuck together and supported each other and in fact proved what the Eastcubator would be about even before it was open. It’s about help, support and about a shared space where startups can come, meet and learn from each other and from the community.
I might not believe in American motivational tales of miraculous transformations but I do believe the power of the environment. It’s a good thing we can choose who we want to meet with.
There is no codified definition for a startup. Usually it’s an organization focused on growth – growth of the team, production, sales or profits. And mostly it’s funded by raised capital in several rounds. So much the theory. But what if the goal of a startup is not to generate millions in revenues, but rather to help millions of people?
In the last years a new term is often used – the social startup. Different concepts can be connected to the term. For example a company that produces low cost solar batteries affordable to African families living off grid. Great mission with a downside – the low price won’t bring much in revenues. Another startup created equipment with pheromones that is able to keep the pests away from tea trees and thus increase the production of small traditional farmers. But those couldn’t afford it. So the team members shifted their attention to big “tea houses” and talked them into buying the equipment for the farmers. Now these can produce bio tee which the houses distribute as premium quality products. It’s a win-win for all parties.
A third option is to start a non-profit organization which will be helping people with the use of technologies. Just like Aktivita zvyšuje úspech does. It was founded by university students who wanted to secure more on-the-job training for their peers. Via a dedicated web platform companies could post internship offers for anybody to answer. But besides the big players like T-Systems or U.S.Steel AZU wanted to address small, often overlooked companies which also have projects to help with and can offer a unique insider look into the real business.
One might oppose that AZU was just a project, but not a startup. Well, let’s take a closer look. 1. Growth – while the original project was aiming at three universities, today AZU can be found in 8 cities and is slowly crossing over to Czech Republic as well.
- Scalability – besides internships the web page azu.sk today informs about interesting events focusing on students’ development, publishes projects, job offers and suggestions for thesis focus from companies and the local coordinators regularly organize meetings with students and different mentors and speakers.
- Talent – just like any company or startup the non-profits like AZU need all the talent they can get to secure a sustainable and long-term development.
- Money – securing grants, sponsorship or non-financial help is a No. 1 topic, because the business model isn’t really working yet. But show me a startup which didn’t face the same problem.
Azu is trying to help the students, make them more active and secure them more experience. From the feed-back it is apparent that the project is good. So let’s hope they won’t meet the fate of many startups which quit because they run out of money or the team breaks up.
If you saw the Google Talks with Eric Ries, you probably had a laugh a joke he cited: A woman says to a guy ‘I’m not leaving you; I’m just pivoting to another man.’ According to Ries the word pivot in Silicon Valley is widely overused. Everybody who is experiencing some difficulty simply pivots their project, adjusts the product in some way and tries once more. In Google Talks Ries explains his concept of lean startup and tries to show how the pivot is helpful only if it enables the growth in number of clients.
But you don’t need to pivot only if your business slows down. Great example of a healthy pivot answering the market needs is the story of Peter Šoltés and the company Promiseo. Although at the time when Peter was starting, he probably didn’t have a clue about the words startup or pivot.
At the age of 13 Peter started a web page. After the first request to publish an online advertisement he suddenly found himself looking for strategies to increase traffic on his pages and earn money on advertisement. Later he acquired customers and helped them to increase the number of visitors on their internet pages. His 18th birthday Peter spent at filing forms to establish his company Soltes.eu s.r.o.
The company grew in number of employees and their services extended from SEO to PPC campaigns, A/B testing or social media management and creating of buzz campaigns. The growth of the company and entrance to new markets abroad required another change – the name. And so Promiseo came to existence, a name much more attractive to home based as well as foreign customers.
In startup world the pivot is perceived as a way how to keep the company afloat when the product is sinking to the ground. But there is a second option that should not be forgotten. Pivot for the sake of extension and further growth of business.
Written By: Dorota Liptáková
What’s the best way to start a startup, project, business? Ideally, on a sofa in your slippers. It’s just more comfortable 😀 Why, seriously, you can start a business essentially anywhere. Remember Amazon or Apple? They are referred to as garage companies for a reason. The founders of Google first met at the university and after establishing Google Inc. they opened their first office – guess where – in a garage of some woman!
Do you want a Slovak example? The biggest Slovak web hosting provider Websupport started in the founder’s dorm room at Mlyny. Later they moved into a house but seeing the pictures it reminds me more of a concrete tomb. Their next office was suited in another house’s cellar (!!!). The space was nicer, though. But the founder of Websupport Michal Truban admits they had been ashamed inviting clients to the office and the clients had been afraid to visit them anyway 😀
Today the offices of Websupport are a different story. No wonder. They have to accommodate 45 employees with a couple more on its way. How else could the company serve the market in four different states? And some more space is needed for their never ending pranks or else they would have to take cover from the Nerf shots behind the screens of their computers.
The lesson to take from this is – when starting your project you don’t need fancy offices and overpriced business cards. It’s a business idea with a heart that you need in the first place. If your product answers to some problem and helps your customers, that’s when you are on the right way. And there is no reason why you shouldn’t be walking it in your slippers.
Written By: Dorota Liptáková
Startup freshmen usually have a very romantic vision about their future. They can see themselves with empty pockets, pitching their great idea in front of a big investor who will be so amazed he will momentarily hand over a blank cheque and they all live happily ever after. There is just a little problem with the idea, the pitch and the money in this story.
Unfortunately, most startups today can be launched with zero costs. Programming software and launching the test version can be done from your home without a CEO salary. Of course, hardware prototyping or projects from the field of nanotechnology are a different category. But they all have one in common – the future investor wants to see/feel/touch a project that is real and has a potential to succeed.
But first you would have to get to the investor and catch his attention. It’s easy to replay your awesome speech in your head. But if you don’t really know what you are doing, you will lose the attention of the old guns quickly.
Then there is another small catch – what are you willing to give up for the money? Or did you think it’s that easy? No sweetheart, you can lose shares, ownership, or the right to make decisions…
Did we just discourage you from running your own startup? Here is a simple cure. Don’t go in there blindfolded, keep swimming with the current first and take notes. Hang out with the startup crowd, find yourself a mentor, go to competitions and investors’ meetings. And if you still feel lost in the ocean, find yourself a bigger friend.
One of the global top four auditing and consulting companies established its Startup Studio right here in Kosice. The company KPMG has connections and position in the market that enables them to seek talent and act as a bridge to new partnership. They help the startups to communicate their goals, give legal advice and schedule meetings on neutral grounds.
You probably ask ‘where is the catch in this’? No catch. Of course they want their percentage, but only after you have filed for success. It’s up to you to decide what big fish you will swim with. We from Startup Weekend Kosice are happy to have KPMG on our side once more.
Written By: Dorota Liptáková
My brother-in-law is all crazy about the show My name is Earl. I am trying to avoid TV as much as possible but hearing Earl I usually join. I like the main idea of the second series – karma will get you. Help all the people you were mean to in the past. If you don’t do it, you will be hit by a car. But basically it’s a funny show 😀
I do believe in karma in the sense that what you invest will come back to you one day. You can invest in your business, in your children, other people, colleagues, students… Slovak teachers fight these days (it’s been years actually) for higher salaries, but also for dissipating the differences between regional schools and for the possibility to earn extra credit for extracurricular activities with children. Because children are our future. But is it really that easy? Why don’t teachers ask the parents to pay more attention and really raise the children? Where is the appeal to young people to thoroughly plan their studies and future carrier? Who will force the leaders to make space for young generation so they can gain experience and grow in practice? The whole society has to cooperate.
Luckily, in Slovakia we have examples of best practice companies. T-Systems is one of the biggest employers in Kosice. They can shovel in the received CVs. Nonetheless, they are intensely interested in education, for years they have been offering internships and thesis consultations for university students. They are also one of first companies in Kosice to cooperate in the dual education system. Inside the company they create space for their employees to engage in their own micro projects or even independent businesses. Continuously monitoring development in the IT world they never miss an opportunity to support initiatives or public competitions such as Hackathon or Startup Weekend. Why?
The easy answer is: to find the best people and keep the most capable employees. The answer with a touch of karma: they support the whole community. They enable new initiatives and businesses. They teach kids as well as old-timers to open their minds and start new projects. And one day those might bring to T-Systems new clients or new and more experienced employees.
Well, karma will get you. It’s better if you are friends with.
Written By: Dorota Liptáková
Christmas is here. Just like every year. And just like the last time, shops are overcrowded, car parks full, and on every step X-mas ads have been following us for more than a month already. But it´s a tradition.
Some people celebrate the birth of Christ, some eccentrics might celebrate the pagan solstice, and then there are those who worship the fat gentleman in red who has been hijacked by marketers and is turning our children´s sense of generosity into greed. But it´s traditions, so what.
Thanks God there are different traditions as well. And our Startup Weekend Košice is becoming one of them.
The first event in Košice was organized by some other folks. Then, after one and a half year we took over and it´s the same people (with small additions to the team) who are planning the already 4th Startup Weekend.
The X-mas offers and advertisements usually start about 1 month beforehand. We start preparations for the weekend at least 3 months in advance. It´s THE project. It´s like our baby that we care for. We watch it closely, we can see how she grows and with every new event it´s reaching a whole new level. For this we stay faithful and keep coming back because we can´t wait to see what surprise is hiding in the next event.
We want to share our joy and keenness with you. People relax, slow down, celebrate. Instead we start working, planning and looking forward to seeing the next volume of Startup Weekend Košice.
Enjoy the holidays, step into the New Year with the right foot and circle the date 23th of December in your diaries.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year from
Startup Weekend Košice team