Key questions every startupper should ask themselves

September 8, 2021
Use this guide to clear up what you are doing at the moment and in which direction you are going with your work.

The most important thing in starting your own startup project and growing it profitably is to ask yourself the right questions. The questions you'll find in this guide were thought up by Michael Seibel, CEO of Y Combinator, a leading US startup accelerator in operation since 2005, and co-founder of Twitch and Socialcam. Asking yourself these questions can be a key factor in the success and survival of a business project.

The questions were divided into groups in order to clarify the survey scenario and effectively target the answers, maximizing their effectiveness.

Problem

The intrinsic strength of a business idea lies in its ability to respond to the right problem: once identified, analysed, studied and understood, it is the ability to build the right solution that will lead to the creation of a successful business. All inventions and startups are born from the observation of reality, every product or service works if it is solving a problem or if it satisfies a need through a solution that a person is willing to pay for. Most of the time, the best ideas are not born out of a frantic search for something to do, but out of a personal observation of a problem that you are experiencing and that you need to solve.

  1. What problem are you trying to solve now? 
  2. Which problem will be solved at the end of your work? 
  3. What is the result you expect?
  4. Can you easily describe the problem in two sentences?
  5. Have you experienced the problem yourself?
  6. Can you define the problem more narrowly? 
  7. Who can you help first? 
  8. What aspect of the problem can be addressed immediately? 
  9. How can we get the first evidence that our solution is working?
  10. Are you sure that the problem is REALLY solvable?

Customer

Identify your ideal customer. It is important to find find people who are suffering from the lack of the solution you are going to propose on the market, either because it does not yet exist or because existing products are not able to give correct and complete satisfaction to their need. The more fundamental and urgent this need is, the greater the willingness to pay for the solution and the greater the willingness of the customer to contribute by telling you directly what could make the product or service better.

  1. Who is your type of customer? 
  2. Who is the ideal first time user? 
  3. How will he/she know if your product has solved the problem? 
  4. How frequently does your user experience the problem you want to solve? 
  5. Who is getting more value from your product?
  6. How widespread is the problem? 
  7. Is the customer willing to pay to solve the problem?
  8. How easy will it be for your customer to find and use your product?
  9. Which customers should you run away from?

Product

Each product or service under development or MVP has essentially three purposes:

  • verify that the solution solves the problem you are trying to address
  • confirm that your future customers will appreciate the solution
  • determine whether or not people will pay for your solution. 

The purpose of an MVP is to bring the minimum version of the product or service to the market to begin to understand whether it is capable of generating value right from the start, thanks to early adopters. At this stage, if something is not working, it may be due to mistakes in identifying the problem, the customer segment and the way of satisfying the identified problem. To find out, you need to talk to customers, measure their impressions and test the causes that might have led to the mistakes just listed.

  1. Does your product or service actually solve the problem?
  2. Which customers should you look for first? 
  3. How to find people willing to use the first unfinished versions of your product or service? 
  4. Who are the customers most in need of this solution and how do you talk to them first? 
  5. Is there anyone who absolutely cannot stand without your solution?
  6. Are you discounting or starting with an extremely low price? Do you consider this approach? If so, why?

Performance

An idea and a problem are worthless if performance is lacking. Two different teams can come up with a solution to the same problem but one may be doomed to failure and the other to worldwide success. You need to calibrate your performance to your customers and what solution they will love. It is better to reach a few customers who will literally love your product or service than to reach a number of people who will simply love it. Don't only insist on the performance of your solution but also on the internal performance in its implementation, in terms of speed and efficiency, to make sure you are on the right track.

  1. What are you using to measure how users are interacting with your product or service?
  2. What metrics are you measuring to understand how your product or service works? Why did you choose these?
  3. When you realize a new product, a new service or a new feature, what is the metric that will improve because of this new feature?
  4. What metrics do you look at to assess how well your project is working? 
  5. What is your top-level KPI (revenue, usage, repeated purchase, etc.)?
  6. What are the underlying metrics that contribute to achieving your top-level KPI (new users, user loyalty, increase in average cart, etc.)? 
  7. Which of these metrics are you trying to change at this stage of the development cycle?

Product development

Product or service development is about rapidly iterating, measuring, testing and improving your solution with the full involvement of your team. You have released an MVP and are in a learning phase during which you are trying to figure out what to do next: this is the phase in which most startups spend most of their time.

  1. How long is your product development cycle? What makes it so long?
  2. How are you taking note of all the comments made during the product development meetings?
  3. Which category does each of the ideas you considered belong to (new features, interactions on existing ones, bug fixes, A/B test maintenance)?
  4. How easy/intermediate/difficult are the collected ideas to implement? 
  5. Can you reframe difficult ideas or break them down into simpler ones? 
  6. Are there any unnecessary aspects that make ideas difficult to implement? Can they be bypassed or replaced with other options?
  7. Which of the more ambitious ideas could improve your KPIs the most? And among the intermediate and easy ones?
  8. What are the specifications and characteristics of the product or service you want to realize?

All right, now you know the five basic categories for every startup and the complete list of questions for each category. Get your team together, try to answer them all honestly, transparently and above all pragmatically. It's time to leave your dreams aside and really get in touch honestly with the project you are working on: this way it will be easier to understand if you are following the right path to succeed with your idea!

Share this resource with the rest of your team and get ready to respond: good work! e preparatevi a rispondere: buon lavoro!

Author

Luca Coppolella
Head of Content

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