A couple of months ago if someone had told me it was possible to start a company in half a month I would have said they were crazy. Now I know it’s possible! It’s even possible to get a lot of customers in this timespan.
I’m here to share my experience in the 3rd edition of the European Innovation Academy Portugal (EIA), an intensive program for entrepreneurs from all over the world.
The premise is simple: create a startup in 15 days and have 1,000 customers ready to buy your product by the end of the event.
The program is divided by days, from 0 to 15. I’ll try to divide this experience into 3 weeks to be a little easier reading experience.
In the first place you have to choose a path:
1) You submit your idea
2) You join someone else’s idea
In my case, I’ve joined an existing idea. I’ve reached out to the creators, the inventors, and explained a bit about my background and why I would like to work on their idea and then I was welcomed on board. By the end of day 0, the day before the actual start, we had 2 people from business, one from marketing, one from UI/UX design and me, the software developer.
Starting the Journey
So, the most important word we’ve heard all week (Week 1) was PIVOT. This is a three-week program, so every second you spend on creating a solution to a problem that nobody has can cost you the ticket for the final pitch.
So, you’ll have to fill out a Lean Canvas . You start by filling out the problem part of the canvas. You don’t have an idea? Talk to people!!!
Choose an industry, and then go talk to people in that industry. They’ll be more than welcome to tell you what their pain points are. Google it! Go read some forums, some blogs about a specific topic, etc. People usually like to complain.
From Ken Singer, I have the steps for your journey:
- User Validation
- Problem-Solution fit
- Market validation
These steps are not written in stone. You can, for example, start your journey already with a team and then you guys come up with an idea. Or you can have a team, and an idea and then your market validation fails, and you return to the idea phase.
That being said, we’ve learned from Day 1 that more important (or at least as important as) your idea is your team. You know why? Because a great idea can fail if your team doesn’t work well together.
You can also try to create a company by yourself, and that’s been done many times before, but I think all projects earn with a multidisciplinary team. You can be the best in the world in your field of study, but you always lack something. Are you an engineer? That’s great, but are you as good in the business part? Can you plan a marketing strategy from scratch? Can you determine what the users will like to use? You can’t. You need help. Get a good team!
So, now you know the steps. Those are the steps to create a successful startup.
Aren’t you excited? I am!!!
Finding ideas and creating solutions
In EIA, your days are usually decided in two parts: keynotes in the morning and teamwork + mentoring in the afternoon. There are exceptions and I’ll try to cover them here in this article. But back to business:
By the second day we already had the first sections of the lean canvas filed, we knew what our problem was, what are our main targets as customers was and we had a simple idea of what could be some solutions for the problems, but as Tim Vieira said, you should also have a personal business plan.
What do you stand for, what’s your beliefs, what makes you want to be an entrepreneur? At the end of the day, investors don’t invest in ideas, they invest in people! They invest in your passion. Don’t get me wrong, your idea is really important, but you have to believe in it.
When you’re sure you are doing the right thing for the right reason, you can start focusing on your product market fit.
Is your problem big enough?
You found a problem, but is that a problem worth solving? How much money are people willing to spend on something to solve that problem? With what regularity? Those are all questions you have to seek answers for because you don’t want to spend a bunch of time and money on something only you need.
A really good way to find out if you have a good idea, a good market, or something different is Google. Check how much your market is worth, check if your solution has competition, check what they are doing and what you can do best.
While you are checking if your idea is worth solving, you’ll come across the concept of a market. Your market is the sum of customers you can sell your solution to. Anand Kulkarni used a really good example to teach what we should consider a startup’s market, Tinder. I don’t remember the example that well but I’ll try to explain: let’s consider Tinder, the dating app. Thinking big, their market or TAM (Total Available Market), is single men and women. Narrowing it down, our SAM (Serviceable Available Market) can be all the single men and women in the European Union. Narrowing it down even further our SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market) can be single men and women in Portugal, with a mobile phone and actively looking to date. Here you can see who your clients truly are.
Getting some traction
By week 2, after analyzing who our clients were, we started calling some of them to see if they were interested in signing LOIs (Letters of interest). These letters are valuable to investors because they show that the market wants our product and that there are some people interested in using our platform. This is part of the market validation, this is the market telling you that they need your product.
After getting some contacts and partners, we created a landing page. This landing page is another way to show that people are interested in using your idea. Is a simple web page with a call to action button and a form for people to give you their email. With these emails, you start to create a mailing list of potential customers and partners. (by now you should already have a team, an idea, you’ve validated your idea, saw that there is a market for your idea and made key partners.)
Sketching and vetting designs
You have also to start sketching prototypes for your platform, creating screens and thinking about user interactions with those screens. You have to create paper prototypes first (video below), to test your ideas and concepts. When you are happy with those, just put them on the computer with Adobe XD or something like that and you have something to show your potential consumers.
On week 3, your team has to do multiple things at the same time. You have to create a POC (proof-of-concept) that shows your platform is doable and you have to think about ways your platform can be profitable. I am a senior in software engineering, so the POC was my task with the help of our designer to create a functional, attractive MVP (minimum valuable product). The other members of the team were creating ways to make money with our business model.
By the end of the week, we had a working MVP, a way to make our platform make money and the team was focused on two more things: a 100-day roadmap and the final pitch. The roadmap is a series of steps that show investors what you think about the future of your company and product. You have to show them what you think are the next steps to get your product to market.
At the same time, the team must prepare a pitch. In EIA, you have a first stage where every team pitches to two investors. Those investors give you tips to improve your pitch and judge you. From all the teams, the investor chooses 10, the top 10 teams that will pitch in front of all the other teams and for the Internet on the big stage.
The big day
On the last day, they gathered us in the auditorium and began to announce one by one the top ten teams that made it. PROCO, our idea is there. We are one of the top teams. I can’t explain what the feeling is of seeing your team’s name up on the stage. You’ve worked countless hours in the last 3 weeks, created a product almost from scratch, gave your best and you made it. Our final pitch was on the big stage, where you have to do a quick pitch and them answer some questions from the investors. Everything went amazingly. After that was the prize and the final ceremony.
To sum up, participating in the European innovation academy gave me the tools to create my own company. At the beginning of the program, I didn’t know that there was a formula to create a successful startup, I did not know my amazing team colleagues and I was not part of a startup. I’ve met so many amazing, interesting people in the last 3 weeks that I can’t even list them all.
I just want to thank my teammates for all their patience with me and for their hard work, plus thank our mentors who were always ready to help, the EIA volunteers who were tireless in helping and being such a great support for all the teams and the EIA team that made it an incredible event.
Do you want to know what my idea was, the startup that got into the top ten?
We are called PROCO — A project cooperation platform. We bring together students, companies and universities through a multisided platform that enables students to do real-life projects embedded in their curriculum while giving companies a talent pipeline.
Want to know more? Check out our website at http://weproco.com.
We’ve made a video to introduce our idea and team: Video