One of the best lessons I have learned from working in New York is to “think big”. It sounds cliche’, but there is something about being thrown into this vibrant entrepreneurial community that dramatically expands your perception of the world and its opportunities. Everyone is hustling to build around concepts that have never been tried before, and “Can it scale?” is a question heard every single day.
What I have also learned is that there is no reason why every other entrepreneurial community should not be built around a similar “big picture” vision. The tools of the modern Internet mean that any startup can be bootstrapped to profitability while maintaining a similar global long term strategy. Rather than building localized versions of existing companies, or struggling to keep up with well funded competitors in crowded spaces, Entrepreneurs should build products focused on immediate profitability but geared towards a broad long term vision.
The Lean Startup methodology provides an excellent framework for this kind of thinking. (Anyone who is unfamiliar with Lean Startup should check out Eric Ries’ excellent blog) Although it has seen broad adoption among US Entrepreneurs, I believe the Lean Startup approach can be most valuable for entrepreneurs working out of emerging markets. Using Lean Startup style customer development, companies can build an understanding of their customers from anywhere in the world, and they can do it extremely cheaply and efficiently. A basic outline of the process could look like this:
- A founder or team creates an early hypothesis for a product
- The team creates a simple landing page and drives traffic to it to measure interest in the hypothesis
- If the market response is positive, the team should build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in order to further test the hypothesis. This is an early version of the product with the minimal feature set needed to gather customer feedback.
- Based on the response to this MVP, the startup can either continue with development, or “pivot” and adjust their hypothesis and start anew.
This is a bare minimum explanation of the Lean Startup concept, and I strongly encourage any aspiring entrepreneur to read as much Steve Blank and Eric Ries as possible. However, even at a basic level, the concept remains the same: using tools like Google Adwords and a simple landing page generator such as Unbounce, a startup can be testing receptiveness to a product in a just a few hours and for less than $100.
An excellent example of a startup following this methodology is current Techstars NYC company Onswipe (formerly known as Padpressed). The entire Onswipe development team was working out of Latin America, and they were able to prove traction and validate their concept before closing $1 Million in funding. Onswipe’s story almost perfectly parallels the Lean Startup Methodology:
- The Co-founders recognized there was an opportunity to make content more visually appealing on tablet devices
- The team created a simple WordPress plugin working with their development team in Mexico
- The market response was very positive, and their hypothesis was validated by the acquisition of a sizable number of paying customers
- Based on the response to this MVP, Onswipe was able to raise financing and move forward with the next iteration of their product.
The barriers to entry in the web ecosystem have become so absurdly low that there is quite literally no reason why any individual with an idea for a startup shouldn’t take the steps to explore their early hypothesis. If early feedback looks promising, a company can bootstrapped quite easily while pursuing further validation.
The startup journey will always be a challenge, and being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. However, the old fallacy that only US based Entrepreneurs with access to venture capital can build successful Internet companies is dead wrong. As the Internet continues to achieve near global ubiquity, it is my hope that the next generation of entrepreneurs will have a similarly global flavor.