10 Steps for Anyone to Launch a Startup (by CEO of 2 startups)
Do you want to become an entrepreneur, but have no idea where to start? We get it, because we were just like you several years ago. There is too much information out there and it's hard to figure out the right steps. There are so many business incubators, multiple startup schools, business courses, etc. who all claim to know the right strategy.
You probably have an idea of a business that you want to start but no technical or business skills. Maybe you don't even have an idea for a business but have an urge to find a great one and become a successful entrepreneur. It's possible that you dream of becoming a unicorn, getting a lot of funding and disrupting the world. Or you are more interested in a sustainable small business that brings you enough money not to worry about it for the rest of your life.
Got no business idea?
Look around you and pick a problem that you yourself experience. If this is your first experience with building a startup, this may be the best place to start. What you need to do after is figure out if more people are having the same problem. How many of those people are out there? Are they willing to pay to have that problem go away? How many of them are willing to pay? How much are they willing to pay? Once the business side of it makes sense, then you got yourself an idea worth pursuing. It's all about learning how to validate ideas than about ideas themselves.
Need help? Send us a message with "I need help coming up with a business idea" and we will respond to you with a few tips. Click here to send us a quick message. Don't worry, it's free.
Got an idea but no technical skills?
That's not a problem at all in the early stage. You can learn how to use tools that will allow you to get your first revenue before you even need to hire developers. Don't believe us? Test yourself. Sign up for the free startup school, take one of the "Digital Tools" modules like Tilda, Bubble or Adalo and build your first landing page, web app or mobile app in a few hours by following the instructions.
Got an idea but don't know what to do next?
Start by reading this article and see if what is written makes sense to you. Also, sign up for our free startup school and take a "startup playbook" module which will give you a clear understanding on your next steps.
Looking for co-founder?
First, take a pause and ask yourself why. Why do you need a co-founder? What kind of a co-founder are you looking for? Why would that person want to become your co-founder? How are you going to decide on whether it's a fit or not?
There are a lot more questions that you need to figure out answers for. Breaking up with someone is tough, breaking up with a business partner might mean the end of your business. You have to minimize the risks. How do you do that? We have an educational module that helps with figuring it all out. Sign up for our free startup school and go to "Startups and Teams" module.
Looking for funding?
Are you ready for funding? Do you already have a functioning MVP and are people paying you for using it?
Do you know about grants, subsidies, incubator funding, angels, Venture Capital? Which one are you interested in?
Looking to apply for EU Funding? Check out the article on writing a successful application here.
Need help with figuring it out? Send us a message with "Am I ready for funding?" and we will respond to you with a few questions. Click here to send us a quick message. Don't worry, it's free.
Got an idea and want to build an MVP?
Are you sure you are ready to build an MVP? Did you already validate the idea? Do you have a chunky list of people who are ready to use your future product? How many of them have pre-paid?
If you don't understand why we are talking about sales whereas you want an MVP, read the article carefully. If after that you still have questions or are determined to start building, send us a message. Click here to send us a quick message.
Here's a bit of tough love for you: ideas are worthless. Knowing how to quickly and efficiently validate an idea is priceless.
After being entrepreneurs for many years, we found something that works like a charm and is an ideal strategy for first time founders. In this article we are going to tell you how to launch your first startup in a matter of several weeks even if you don't have technical skills or money. There are 10 basic steps for startup founders to follow. All of the steps fall into four categories: audience and its segments, product, funnels and traffic. Let's get started.
You have probably heard about the concept of an MVP and how important it is to build one. The meaning and role of an MVP has changed a lot during the last few years and here's what's new:
From the user perspective, there must be some sort of a delight on top of the basic function. If before an MVP didn't have to be visually pleasing, today people expect it by default. Why? Mainly because technology is evolving so fast that a good design can be created in a matter of days rather than months.
From the tech perspective, it has never been easier to build products than it is now. No-code tools are gaining popularity, because they are simple and accessible. What are no-code (or zero code) tools? It's a set of tools that are about visual coding: there's no need to actually code anything. Instead you have to think in terms of front ends (user interfaces), back ends (databases) and workflows that connect the two. And yes, it is possible to master them in a matter of weeks.
From the funding perspective, investors expect you to already have a product and a good traction to raise during the current economic downturn. Before you are there, it's possible to use some government subsidies and grants to extend the runway (aka the amount of months that you can afford to run a startup without going bankrupt). The worst thing you can do is concentrate on building a product before you have thoroughly validated your idea. And if you spend money on hiring external developers to do that, that's double the trouble. How do we know? We have been there and done that with our first startup. We are much smarter now but the learning journey has been rough and long.
If there's anything that you should take away from this article, it's this:
If you're just starting your company, don't rush into building a product or worry about funding from day 1.
You most probably don't need co-founders, funding or an actual product in order to get to a place where you have sufficient traction and, therefore, interest from either investors or customers, or both.
And no, you don't need to be a technical person, or have any startup experience. Looking for a co-founder, or a team of developers to hire, or funding before you have a business plan and/or traction, is in most cases a road towards failure.
What is important to have is a startup mindset: a thick skin is a must.
Another vital thing is to know what steps to take in order to get to where you need to be.
The good news is that both can be learned and trained.
NB: Things that you don't nee to worry about in the very beginning are:
- business name for your startup (nobody knows you and nobody cares about the name: people only care if you solve their problem). Use one of many AI generating tools like Namelix to come up with a name. Remember that you can always change it later. Even if you decide to buy a domain name now, you can always rename the product later. Heard about Google and Alphabet? In order to check if a domain for your name is available, use Namechk.
- fancy logo (customers are going to love you if you take their pain away and not because you have an awesome logo). Use one of the free AI generating tools, like Looka to create a logo or better yet, read up on Step 4 and create it yourself with Canva. Use AI-generated images as an inspiration and play with your imagination a bit. Btw, Canva also has a "text-to-image" function now. It's currently in beta but even now it will help you create a usable image in seconds.
Buckle up, let's start: here's how to validate, build and launch startups without wasting time and money:
1. Locate a worthy problem (8-16 hours, $0)
Your first step is to identify a problem that many people face and are willing to pay to have it go away. Solutions don't really matter at this point. Just find the pain and poke it hard.
For Fe/male Switch, the problem was given by the Dutch government. They realized that there aren't enough women in tech startups. Alright, sounds like it is indeed a problem, but how big is it? Is it just the Netherlands or do other countries feel the same way? What about women themselves: do they even want to be in tech startups?
Once we received confirmation regarding both questions, we needed to figure out the financial aspect. Who is willing to pay for this problem to be solved and how eager are they to pay? Ideally, you want the "please, take my money and make the pain go away" situation. In reality, you usually end up with needing to figure out if your user is also your customer or not. Is the government going to pay to bring more women into tech startups or are the women going to pay to be able to start their entrepreneurial journeys? There might be a third party that is interested as well. In our case it's tech companies and startups themselves that are eager to attract more women and are willing to spend some money.
At this stage you should not care about the solution to the problem. What you must care about is the problem itself. Do you personally feel anything for the problem? Do you think you will be willing to wake up every morning and have the desire to work on this problem? Even in a year or two? If not, find another problem, because if you are not passionate about it, you will give up and potentially even burn out if you push yourself too hard working on something that you don't care about.
What can help is the F/MS canvas that we created for people like you. Just get the template in Canva and start filling it in as you move further.
2. Identify your competition and audience (8-16 hours, $0)
Once you have identified a problem, you’ll want to validate it with the potential users and customers. How do you do it if you don't know anybody who has the problem? Start digging!
So, women who would be willing to become tech entrepreneurs...where are you? Here's a hack for you to get started: google stuff. It might be obvious but a lot of people don't really understand how much valuable info you can get by googling. In a few hours you will have an idea of who your possible competitors are. For Fe/male Switch is would be startup incubators, accelerators, business courses, communities for female entrepreneurs, etc. Alright, half the job done. Now dig deeper and get a list of 10 top competitors, find their social media and start watching what they are doing, what kind of people are in their communities, study their websites and just get to know their process. Move on to the next step, which is basically a sub-step of audience building.
3. Get started with community creation (8-16 hours, $0)
Now that you have a rough idea of what is happening around your problem, it's time to establish your presence. Start with creating your own social media account. By now you should already have an idea of what the best social media channel is for you (at least you need to make an intelligent guess as to which platform you think is best to start with). Hint: choose the same platform where your competitors are most active.
Set up an account (do you need help with this? Sign up for our free startup school and use the guides) and follow all of your competitors. You are in passive mode now: watching, collecting info, learning.
Let's get you active so you can actually talk to people.
4. Create visuals with Canva or Figma (10-40 hours, $0)
Before you start saying hello, we need to dress you up. Get a free Canva account and get yourself a logo, a social media banner, pick your fonts and colors. Proceed with creating a few visuals and make your social media account look presentable. Make your first post and start the active phase: follow the followers of your competitors, make comments under the posts of your competitors and grow your own following.
Work on storytelling, which won't be hard if you actually filled in some of the parts of the F/MS Canvas and studied the "Build your audience" modules in Startup School.
Depending on how much effort you put into growing your social media following, you can grow at a rate of 10-20 people per day. So, in a week, you will have a nice mini-audience that you can start talking to.
Once they become active, the interaction needs to become regular. Don't lose their interest. At the same time, proceed to the next step while simultaneously continuing with this one.
Also start with drafting the design of your MVP in Canva or Figma. It doesn't have to be pretty at this point, but it has to make sense. What happens when users get into your app? What is they click this button? What's going to happen next? What page should they see?
Talking about something is not the same is visually presenting it. It's a great way for you to be able to show your ideas to future users and potential co-founders. Showing is always better than telling.
5. Launch a landing page with Tilda (8-16 hours, $0)
Once you have people in the social media, you need to start testing and validating stuff with them. Remember that you don't own any data on social media. If your account gets blocked, you have lost every single follower.
Don't allow this to happen: always have a Plan B. In this case your Plane B coincides with building the first version of your product. Don't worry, we know that you still have no idea about the solution or the product. That's exactly when your followers are going to be very useful.
Start building your homebase, aka your first prototype: a landing page. Create a free account with Tilda and use a template that you like. If you followed Step 4 properly, then the design part is going to be a piece of cake: get your Canva visuals, colors and fonts into Tilda and voila, the template feels like it's yours.
Pay attention to copyrighting and test your value proposition by a/b testing. What it means is that you pay attention to the feedback and test different versions of the text that you use. It's very important to find the language that your potential customers understand and can relate to.
Add the link of your landing page into your social media account and start sending your followers to check it out. Is nobody doing it? Did you actually explain why they would need to go? In other words, what's your call to action? What are they supposed to do once they land at your page? Your goal is to have them leave their info (email address and name at the very least) so that you don't lose them in case your social media account gets hacked.
6. Start a newsletter with MailChimp (8 hours, $0)
At this point you should already have a few email addresses in your database. It's time to deliver value and get to know your audience better.
Get a free account with MailChimp and create your first Newsletter. Make sure you are actually sending something valuable otherwise people will immediately unsubscribe.
At this point you have all you need to continue building your audience, validate the problem and even come up with the first ideas regarding the solution. Just continue iterating, repeating the previous steps and testing new things.
7. Build an MVP with Bubble or Adalo (140-280 hours, $0)
Only continue to this step if you have a validated problem, a potentially viable solution and a substantial amount of people from your audience who are willing to commit (yes, you can pre-sell a product before actually building it).
It is possible to build a viable MVP in a month or two even without any skills. At this point we are not taking legal stuff into account, which may be important for FinTech, HealthTech, DeepTech, etc. That's an added "bonus" and of course figuring it out is going to be extremely important. For that you might need to hire a legal professional (ouch, expensive) or join Fe/male Switch and get access to Legal Coach for the fraction of a cost.
Don't try to automate everything, rather do things manually. Yes, that doesn't scale but the chances that you will get things wrong on your first attempt are close to 100%. Don't rush to automate stuff before you do testing with the actual users. Their feedback will most probably blow your mind and you will be happy you didn't build something in stone. At this point get an intern or a virtual assistant instead of developers. NB: do not hire junior developers at this point. In a situation when you have no idea of what you are building and them having no experience, things are going to take forever and you will be disappointed and annoyed that you are not getting what you expect.
Use tools like Make if you want to automate something, yet keep it flexible. Do so only once you have manually verified that the flow is correct. It's going to save you a lot of time. At this point you will be a lean mean building machine that is more efficient that a team of developers. Get yourself a nice little something to reward yourself and celebrate the fact that you just saves tens of thousands of money that you don't have AND you have upgraded your skills. You can do anything now! Well, almost everything.
Decide on a single feature you need to build in order to solve the pain that your user have. Your goal is to figure this feature out and believe us, it's harder than it sounds. Avoid fancy "nice-to-have" features, instead focus on the "must-have" holy grail of features.
And yes, we remember that you don't have any technical skills, but if you actually made it to this step, it means you already know how to use several zero-code tools. Canva, Tilda, Mailchimp are all tools that don't require their users to know how to code. Bubble and Adalo are also zero-code tools, albeit they are more complicated. You have a choice here: learn the basics of these tools and build the first prototype yourself. Yes, it is possible and no, it won't take years or even months. Or you can look for a co-founder. We don't advice to hire developers at this point because there's a 99% chance that you will burn through the money and get nothing good in return. And it's not because of the developers, but because you still have a very vague idea of what it is you are building.
So get to learning. You know the drill: our startup school has everything you need to build your first prototype. Need feedback and more help? Our startup game for women is launching this fall, so sign up here. Not a woman? We are also building a startup incubator and more in-depth courses with homework and expert help. Sign up for our newsletter not to miss the launch.
8. Collect feedback with TallyForms
Another awesome tool for you to use is a form creator. You need to be able to collect feedback from users in a way that you can analyse it. TallyForms is free for most of your needs, so get started with it.
Focus on getting first customers and start interviewing them. Show them your Canva/Figma designs and make sure you actually solve their problem and excite them. Your landing page statistics are going to be a loud indicator of whether you nailed the problem/solution fit or not. You will either have conversions or not. At this point it's all about multiple iterations. Marketing is tough and it's mainly personal / direct outreach at this point, which makes the idea of personal branding a worthy one even in the beginning of your journey, but that's a different story.
Check out all the tools that we love and use in this presentation.
9. Check metrics and improve
Make sure you are always analysing your metrics and improving stuff. Tilda has a built-in CRM and statistics. So does social media, Mailchimp and others. Spend some time on figuring them out and start tracking the most important things.
Choose a few main metrics and track them daily (Google Sheets will do at this point). Metrics should be related to traction, e.g. views, conversions, paying users.
For example, is your social media following growing? By how much? What percentage of your followers is visiting your landing page? Is that number growing? What percentage of the landing page visitors is signing up for your newsletter? Is that number growing? What percentage of your subscribers is opening your emails? Is that number growing? You get the drill.
If something is not growing, go back to that step and spend time on figuring out why. Change stuff and don't stop until you get a positive result. Unless, there is nothing more that you can do. That's when you might need to decide to change something drastically: come up with another problem or another solution. These things happen more than you might think. First startups fail a lot.
10. Take care of your mental health
You might be thinking: why did I just read this whole article if there's no happy ending? Oh but that is a happy ending! In the best case you succeed, in the worst case you only devoted a couple of months to this problem/solution, you didn't waste any money and you spent your time learning. You understood the process of idea validation and audience building. You learned how to build stuff with your own hands and how to grow from zero followers to an amount that is bigger than that. And, whether you wanted that or not, you grew your inner entrepreneur.
Creativity, confidence and other entrepreneurial skills that are part of the startup mindset are very useful even if you decide not to become an entrepreneur.
One last piece of advice: no matter what you end up doing, always put yourself first. Your mental and physical health are your biggest asset and you need to take care of them.
Learn more about Digital Tools, Tech Knowledge and Essential Skills for entrepreneurs and many more in our Startup School!
If you want to build your startup together with other female founders while learning and having fun, apply for the official launch of Fe/male Switch startup game! It's coming soon!