Resisting the Urge to Build (My New Startup Checklist)

You may remember a few months back I launched a new site - - which helps you to monitor your mobile phone usage and alert you if you’ve overspent your monthly minutes, texts and so on.

Being totally honest, MinuteMate seemed to follow a pattern familiar to many techies launching things which goes something like this: “build product, launch, wonder who customer might be, avoid actually speaking to customers at all costs”.

Once launched, I took the idea to Liverpool Startup Club and we all concluded that the next steps were to go and actually talk to people - specifically to parents of teenagers. This was the point that I failed - I’m not sure whether I felt too shy to talk to strangers (I don’t know any parents), or that I wasn’t passionate or confident enough about the idea to “sell” it to them. But I spoke to exactly no potential customers, and so MinuteMate became history.

There are a few problems here that I need to tackle. As someone who loves to build things I personally really struggle to approach businesses from the right direction, namely “identify problem, find numerous potential customers, build (quickly)”.

It’s interesting but I think that for me, being technical is actually a hindrance to my ability to succeed as an entrepreneur - I get too distracted by the detail of potential solutions, rather than properly exploring the actual problems. I remember reading (somewhat indignantly) in Alan Sugar’s book that Engineers don’t often make good Entrepreneurs - I’m taking this as a warning!

Furthermore, I’ve discovered that I have a tendency to lose interest in projects once they are built, as was the case with both Custom Cocoa and MinuteMate. The problems those sites were addressing were not sufficiently important to me that I had enough interest in seeing them through. Currently I write down a lot of business ideas that would probably suffer the same fate -  I need a better way of filtering them down so I can actually see them through.

This idea really crystallised when I read Nathan Kontny’s blog post “A litmus test for your idea.” In it, he essentially argues that  if you can’t write a blog about something every couple of days for a few weeks, you aren’t committed enough to the subject to start a business. This is absolutely the litmus test I have been looking for and it’s proving really helpful for me to filter out ideas I don’t think I should pursue.

So to address the problem-first-not-solution issue, my tendency to build and my attention span deficiency, I’ve put together a short list of criteria which any business idea is herein subject to. I hope this will evolve as I learn, and I’d be really interested to know what’s on your checklist too.

  1. What problem is this actually solving, and for who?
  2. How will I find and talk (face to face or on the phone) to at least 20 people whose problem this solves?
  3. Does this idea have the potential to make £1,000 profit per month within 3 months?  (I’m not particularly after huge scale, as I’ll probably write about another time)
  4. Would the business require me to be available 24/7 for support or be pinned to one location? (I found this a big turn-off with the chocolate business).
  5. Can I write 3-5 blog posts this week about solving the problem, and imagine dong so for the next 6 months?
  6. Do I really care about the outcomes of this business - will that passion be sufficient to get me through the hardest times?

**Do you suffer from the *Build-First *mentality too? How have you overcome it? **

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