Turn your scaleable tech-based idea into a reality with Startup School by The Forge McMaster


Do you have an innovative tech-based business idea, but you aren’t sure how to get it off the ground? The Forge McMaster is offering an intensive 14-week evening mentorship course beginning January 24 2019. The Forge Startup School provides expert advisors and mentors to develop your startup idea into a tangible business. Utilize The Forge’s co-working space and resources while receiving support from entrepreneurs-in-residence and network of 50+ mentors. Launch your idea faster by applying lessons from mentors’ real-life industry experiences.

This event series is valued at $1,399 but is being offered for free to McMaster students and a discounted $299+HST for those who register early.

Note: Space is limited so please register asap!

REGISTER HERE: https://theforge.mcmaster.ca/programs/index.php

·       Early Bird Registration Deadline is January 11, 2019.

·       Final Registration Deadline is January 16, 2019.

For more information and any questions, please contact Mariya Leslie, Incubator Manager of The Forge at McMaster University, at 289-919-1177 ext 202.

Ten Steps to Starting an App or Technology Based Business


I often get asked: “How do I start a technology company (or build an app)?”

I put together a quick video on this summarizing the things I’ve learnt from my mistakes (and successes) along the way and how we launched our products. I'd like to share with you some best practices and ideas on how to do that. If you’ve already built your technology and need to know how to launch it best then read “How Do I Get My Idea Off The Ground”. Obviously do your research before beginning but I’m here to help. The video has been written below for further reading.

  1. So you’ve got an idea for a tech company or app, validate it.


So, the first thing you have to realize when you have an idea for an app, or a platform, or some sort of software development idea; is to NOT go and develop that software just yet. What you need to do is you need to validate your idea first and foremost, no matter how good of an idea you think it is. You need to ensure that it solves a problem or brings value to your prospective user or client, and also define who that prospective user or client is, and then validate that assumption as well.

What are you assumptions about your idea and how can you validate them?

So, you want to first start asking a lot of questions to your prospective clients, or who you think would actually utilize this. You can call them up or visit them, or say "this is my idea, I'm building this, would this solve your problems or would this help? And they might say, no I don't really have that problem, or they might say, yeah, but it would need to solve this problem and that problem or whatever the case is. Understanding what their actual concerns or problems are is key. Sometimes you talk to three to five people, and your idea completely changes. Lastly, does your idea have REAL VALUE. <- Link coming soon about that topic on it’s own.

2. During Validation get documented interest ideally through a signature.


So you have to understand what their concern is. Now, this is a really critical time that you can actually get “indicators of interest”; meaning when you go and talk to those people, what you can say is: “okay, sir/ ma'am, if I built this, and it satisfied the needs of this, this, and this, a, b, c, would you buy this?” And if they say, yeah, I would buy it. Make them understand “obviously we're going to show you a product before you have to actually financially commit to anything, but if I build this would you buy it?” And if they say “yeah, I probably would” you respond “awesome, can you just sign this paper letting me know that you're interested, and you would consider buying this at this price if we satisfied these three to five needs”.

3. Show Traction

So what that does, is show proof of interest (or proof of concept). Once you get enough of those, and talk to enough people; you can use that as a way to get investors, because you're actually showing that you've gone out and done your homework, and that there is a demand, and there is a market for it and most importantly you KNOW who your market is and what they want. So that will help with validation and the initial stages of TRACTION.

Traction basically means your idea is starting to stick. You will often be asked “what traction do you have” or “what’s your traction”.

The first thing that you will need to do when you're starting an app or software company or anything like that, is to not actually build any software at all, is to just get out there and ask some questions.

4. Build a Wireframe


Once you've got some questions asked and you have a concept of what the actual needs are for your target market, and what their demands are then what you do is build a wireframe. And this can be super basic as it does not have to be complicated. You can draw it on a white board if need be. A wireframe shows what the screens will look like in black and white without any design, just what the main features are of it, how it would flow, and how a user would flow through the platform. Now before you do this, it would be best to keep in mind some layout principles, so you'll want to look at the most commonly used and intuitive layouts that people naturally know. So you'll have one for iPhone and you'll have one for Android or desktop. By building those, you actually have a foundation, an idea of what it will look like and how it will function.

5. Build a Prototype


Next, you can use some fairly inexpensive software online to bring those wireframes to life. A prototype will show the LOOK, FEEL, FLOW and ideal FUNCTIONS (but will not actually function as that requires working data etc) Some good prototype builders are Invision, Marvel, Proto.io, or if you like Adobe there is Adobe XD.

That will allow you to build those wire frames, meaning a basic image of the screens; and allow you to add hotspots to those screens so that you can click through. That way you get the look and the feel of how it flows as well as the initial design you’d like to apply. It's not going to have the functionality or be hooked up to any databases or anything, so it won't actually be the app, but it will allow you to have a prototype of what the app would look like and get more feedback from users on the usability and intuitiveness of it.

6. Test your prototype


So once you've asked the right questions, you've got indicators of interest from your prospective market, now you actually have a wire frame of what it would look like, feel like, and do. Then you go about testing your wire frames, and you go back to those same people ideally, and you ask them, hey can you use this? You put it in their hands and say, just tell me what you're thinking as you walk through this. And there's a really great principle that you can use, it's called the Google Design Sprint, and you can use that methodology to get the right feedback on the user experience of your software. Oftentimes you'll talk to three to five people, these people should be actual potential customers or your target market; not your friends and your family who might just tell ya, like yeah, you're doing awesome and give you all this awesome support but it might not be the actual feedback that you need. So, so, go and get strangers or your target market or like real colleagues that would use this to give you feedback. And oftentimes after three to five people, you might realize that there's a flaw in your design, or in the flow, or there's questions that aren't being answered, so go into that process with as much of an open mind as possible.

7. Write out your user stories


Once you've done that, you've gotten the feedback, you've tweaked your wire frames now, and you've gotten approval from people saying “this is really good, I really like this”. You've got your indicators of interest (and everything like that. At that point, you would actually start to put together the framework to give to a developer. You do this through “user stories”. And your user stories you want to be as specific as possible, because you have to realize that non-technical founders and developers speak two different languages. You will also want to do this to understand your customer Persona’s and what they are doing. And you have to be incredibly specific as to what you want from those functions that they're going to build for you.

So a user story would be like: “As a user, I am prompted to sign up with my email and password. Log in credentials would include my name, or sign up credentials would include my name, email, and a password.” If you wanted to have additional functionality on there, like sign up with Google, sign up with Facebook, that would be an additional user story. You would have to add to that, so that on every page of that wire frame, you actually have user stories as to every possible thing a user could do on that, and what that means.

That way the developer has super clear instructions on how to build that page out for you, so you have less back and forth. The more clarity that you have, the better and the happier that your tech team is gonna be.

8. Architect it

So from there, you need to then talk to a developer or somebody about the architecture of it; where's your data being stored? What services are you using to store data? Is it cloud or is it your server? What front end are you using? What back end coding are you using? So you want to understand some basics on that stuff, so do some research there (I’ll be posting additional information about that). Then you will either need to get funding to pay your developers. You'll need to raise money from investors, put your own money in, get a loan, or whatever the case is. Or you need to find a co-founder that's okay with working for very little or for free, while you build this in exchange for equity or future payment.

Once you find that person, you want to ideally have this person vetted. Not all developers are created equal. There's good ones, and there's bad ones. So you want to put extra time into finding the right one to help you kick start things and be on the right track. If you find the wrong one, and you start working with them, it can lead to a lot of problems down the road. So ideally have a mentor, an advisor, or a proven professional help you vet this person, and that way you can move forward with confidence. Generally speaking, to get a Minimum Viable Product off the ground, you only need one developer to start.

So build your prototype, which doesn't do anything, but it gives you the look and the feel. Then you're building the actual MVP, which is the Minimum Viable Product. And one thing I forgot to mention is that when you're building out your Minimum Viable Product, you want to start with as few features as possible, based on the feedback that you've received from your interviews and your surveys with your target market. So get that feedback, scale it down to ideally one, two, three features tops; but one or two ideally. Just stick with those features, build the Minimum Viable Product, but structure your app or your software in a way where you can add features later based on feedback. Don't just build features just because you thought it was a good idea. Just because you thought it was a good idea doesn't mean anybody's going to buy it.

9. Start

Get some initial traction, and then roll from there. So that's how to get from the idea of technology all the way through to a Minimum Viable Product that you can actually roll out, and start to get your first few customers or fans. I'll do another video/post on how to take your Minimum Viable Product into a full scale, fully featured software package.

10. Build a business around it

Don’t forget, just because you’ve built a cool app or software doesn’t mean it will automatically be a successful business. You’ve got Marketing, Operations, HR, Finance and more to consider as well. Do your homework and surround yourself with intelligent, successful people to make your dream a reality! Check out “How Do I Get My Idea Off The Ground” for more information on first steps to launching your business.

Need Help? Contact me to discuss your startup idea!

How do I get my idea off the ground?!

I often get asked "I have an idea, how do I start it?"  That is often times a bigger question that requires more context but let's go over the fundamental mindset and steps to take.  First off, let’s address the doubts….

  • “I don’t know where to start”

  • “I don’t have the funds”

  • “I don’t have the time”

  • “I don’t know what to do”

(Any other of the hundreds of self doubts that creep in… “I’m not good enough” “I’ll probably fail” “I’m not smart enough” “I don’t have the connections" blah blah blah)

Repeat after me:

“People with far less, have done far more, for it is not the resources that I currently possess, but my resourcefulness that I will muster from within. It will be the courage, dedication and determination that muster up and press on with that will determine my success, ALL of which I, and only I, am in control of”

- Joshua L-B

How do you take a startup or an idea and turn it into a successful thriving business.

  1. Open your idea up! Like really open.

First you need an idea, but you have to remember that ideas are worthless. An idea is only good once acted on and often times people get hung up on the idea that they don't want to tell anybody their idea for fear that someone might steal it. Well, I have to share something with you and you might not like it.  The fact is, if somebody else can steal it and has more passion than you then perhaps you shouldn't be doing the idea anyways.  You should let it go to the world and have somebody else bring it to fruition, because if you aren't passionate enough about your idea or excited about your idea enough that you are going to move forward with it with more gusto and more drive than somebody else, then perhaps you aren't aligned with your idea enough and someone else might very well be!  (Partners can be great for this if you need one) Now if you simply want to do your idea primarily or solely because you want to “make alot of money” then that is usually a recipe for disaster because you most likely won't see a dime for 2-5 years unless it's an idea where you are "self-employed" to start vs a business system.  (This being said there is a time and a place to go for trademarks, patents and copyrights… I suggest looking up your local innovation center or small business enterprise center in your area to help give you guidance on that)

2. Own the Idea First Before Owning the Business

This is a really important one. Really take on the mindset of owning your creation before even beginning. I remember being at a networking event and people would ask me the infamous questions “So, what do you do?”. I would then go on to explain to them what I actually did, which was my corporate job as a National Sales Director. I quickly realized that although I might find some synergies for my job I wasn’t doing my-entrepreneur-self or my idea any favours! So the very next person I spoke to I told them I was the CEO of GoWrench (I at least had the name at that point). Just by doing that, people started asking questions about what we do and how we do it and it made me have to think on my feet! When I was asked a question I absolutely had no idea about I would simply say “Yes, that’s a great question and we’re working on it still.” and then ask them a question to change the topic. Funny enough, I got my first real customer inquiry. Someone who couldn’t wait to tell their boss about my company and low and behold they called me the next day! I had to explain to them that we were a startup and didn’t have the means to service them yet but it was all the validation I needed to move forward with my idea and actually execute on it.

3. Get Initial Research and Feedback

How do we take an idea and turn it into something amazing? Well, first you need research. You need primary feedback and secondary feedback. What that means is that you want to have your idea and instead of hiding it for fear that somebody might take it, start putting it out there as much as possible to start getting feedback on it. Tell everybody that you know about your idea, so that you can garner some very important ideas about it and you might even gain supporters, suppliers, customers or partners in the process. Keep in mind though that you WILL start to get some objections from it too. Now don't let this discourage you because these objections will help shape and mold your idea into what it actually needs to be to become market ready. Just be sure to hear objections in two categories; constructive or negative. Constructive is an objection or feedback that helps you build it into what it needs to be. Negative is just putting it down without substantial thought or cause. If it’s a well thought out or legitimate objection, give it some thought and try solve it best you can.

Once you have your feedback from your primary research, do some secondary research into your total addressable market; the people and the places you can offer your product or service. This will give you insight into how big the opportunity is and exactly the types of people that you will be going after.

Then it's time to test. In testing you do not need an entire arsenal behind you, you just need a minimum viable product (MVP). What that means is having the most basic idea that has been executed and nothing elaborate because once you actually get it out there, it is most likely going to change over 100 times before it actually settles into the business or product or service it needs to be to thrive.

Okay, so let's say you went out and you got primary feedback and then you got secondary feedback and you did your research and you're ready. Well, now you need a plan. This is where, as boring as it may be, a business plan comes in really handy. It'll ask you the questions that make you think about your strengths and weaknesses, your opportunities and your threats, the marketing plan and the funding required, and what hiring might look like if you need to do that. It will also help you think about how you're going to advertise and get it out there, and what sort of costs you might have, whether that's basic cost of goods sold or overhead and the like.

Then there’s a good chance it’s all going to go to shit. Your perfect plan will inevitably get F*#4ed up right in the first few months. A supplier backs out, employee quits, customer wasn’t happy or something along those lines, but the exercise of thinking through it all will give you a lot of the knowledge and ideas that will get you through the hard times and hard decisions.

4. Get Your First Customer! But How?

Once you have a general idea with some feedback and you've got a good solid plan, now it's time to take the steps to bring it to market. The only thing that you need to worry about is getting your first customer. Now often times your first customer will come from your family or your friends, but once you get one customer outside of your inner circle, you should celebrate that huge success because that means that somebody in the general world that is not related to you directly found your service or product valuable, and that's a great sign.

From here, all you need to do is duplicate that one customer into a second customer, and then that second customer into a third customer and then that third customer into six customers and 12 customers and so on. Now you might ask how do I start, where do I start, what do I do? Well, let's get some bare (and I mean bare) necessities down.

Business name, Logo, how to contact you, your product or service, and somewhere your brand lives (website, social media etc). I’ll post some of my favourite resources in another blog that you can get started with for relatively cheap.

Ok so seriously how do I get my first customer you ask? Depends if you are a business to business model or business to consumer model.

Consumer model: Typically you will start with your inner circle of friends and family. Now don’t EXPECT them to buy anything from you, but WELCOME them to buy and see if they find value. If they don’t then perhaps they aren’t your target market. So who do you assume will like your product or service. Put together 5-10 things that your target person would like, do, say, think as well as where they hang out, where they might work, what they do for hobbies etc. Then you have an idea of your expansive social network of who might like what you’ve got to sell. Always be keeping an eye on your target person or people though as their needs might change. Then message, tweet, email those people and ASK FOR FEEDBACK FIRST and if it’s positive feedback ASK THEM TO BUY (Maybe ask them to buy even if its not ALL positive feedback). Then you’ll get the real feedback and objections that you will take back to the drawing board and keep building.

Business to business model: It is quite the same as the consumer model but you will need to first create or find a network of the businesses that would most likely have a use for your product or service. So what type of companies do you assume will like your product or service. Put together 5-10 things that your target company would like and do, challanges they would be faced with, where their decision makers hang out, what they do for hobbies etc. Then you have an idea of what kinds of companies might like what you’ve got to sell. Always be keeping an eye on your target company’s though as their needs might change. Then message, tweet, call, and email anyone you know who might know someone who knows a decision maker at one of those companies. ASK FOR FEEDBACK FIRST and if it’s positive feedback ASK THEM TO BUY (Maybe ask them to buy even if its not ALL positive feedback). Then you’ll get the real feedback and objections that you will take back to the drawing board and keep building… or you made a sale!

Advertising - how?

Let's talk about your basic advertising. Depending on your product or service, you need to identify exactly who is your target market that you want to really get ahold of, and then what channels you want to talk to them on. Are they more engaged on social media or are they actively searching for a product or service? Are there competitors out there that they're already using? It all depends on your research.

Now whether you use traditional media or online media or the most robust advertising campaign, understanding your buyer is key. Once you get your first buyer, try to find out as much as you can about why they purchase from you, where they came from, and almost immediately you want to track every movement that happens in your business so that you can reverse engineer it and move forward to find more customers like that. Ask a lot of questions in your journey so that you can understand your buying persona and where the numbers come from.

There’s a few different types of advertising or ways to get your company out there but you have to build value in yourself, your company and your service first… In that order. Now how do you provide value? That’s up to you and the listener. Are you a thought leader, are you funny, are you helping them solve a problem, are you giving them something for free? How are you providing this value? Telling them or showing them? Obviously showing them is much more effective but don’t forget to tell them once in a while too.

Define the “Metrics that matter”

Next, let's talk about the metrics that matter. Metrics that matter depend on your business as well, but a simple metric is something called your cost of acquisition, meaning how much does it cost you to get a customer onto your site or through your doors or just generally paying for your product or service. Now they might purchase online or in person or via subscription and depending on your model, you might need to discover what your cost of acquisition is for a one time purchaser or what your cost of acquisition for a subscriber to your business.

Then you want to understand what the annual value of a customer is as well as what the lifetime value of a customer is, so the time that they will spend with you in the course of their dealings with your company. These are some basic numbers that help you understand your business model and if it's feasible, because if you sell a product for $100 but it costs you $50 to make that product and it also costs you another $50 to acquire that customer, well you're still left with $0, so it's not a successful business model right out of the gate per se unless you've got a steady and/or abundant supply of cash flow to acquire customers and then further sell them additional products and services until you break even.

Always Measure and Always Innovate

You might not like what I say next… it’s all going to go to shit. You figured it all out, you started, you did everything right… or did you? No matter what, you are most likely entering a realm you’ve never been in. You are building something you’ve never built so you will have plunders, mistakes, crisis’, and so just expect it and keep building. In order to understand the direction to build in you must always measure your efforts in every way you can. (I will do another blog on measurements and their pesky acronyms that get thrown around so much!). For now, get some BASIC systems to track everything such as;

  • Money - Sales/purchases, Expenses, Investment etc.

  • Customer Activities (Calls, emails, texts, opportunities, sales)

  • Analytics - Website activity, social media activity etc

  • Time - Scheduling, time blocking, time spent etc.

Once you’ve got measurements, you can optimize and innovate those processes to improve your metrics based on your company vision and goals. Now the act of innovating within an organization is a whole other post that can go on for a while but for now just feel safe in the fact that once you start tracking, the answers will present themselves to you if you’re looking and listening to them (with your eyes, ears mind and heart as well).

Just Start

Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap. “Perfection is the enemy of progress” still stands true. Perfection is for people who have mastered their craft and are pushing the boundaries of their creations after hours and hours (usually 10,000 hours or more) so cut yourself a break! If you haven’t done this before then 80% of what you need to know you will learn along the way. They say entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and figuring out how to build an airplane on the way down. A crude example but a great analogy to explain that there is a degree of faith you will need in yourself to pull it all together. How do you pull it all together? First of all, listen to your heart and then combine passion, determination, a pinch of stubborness, alot of openness, attention to detail, a big vision and a really strong desire or necessity for your business to take off. Oh and just so you know, you can do it, but buckle up because it’s a hell of a ride.

Much love and respect

Joshua Lombardo-Bottema