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5 tips for starting a tech company 

Hard-won advice from Katelyn Bourgoin, the startup veteran and "customer intelligence" advocate.

click to enlarge "Building a tech company is hard," says Katelyn Bourgoin. "It's way too hard to do alone." - SUBMITTED
  • "Building a tech company is hard," says Katelyn Bourgoin. "It's way too hard to do alone."
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“I planned to be a millionaire before my 30th birthday,” Katelyn Bourgoin writes on her website, describing the ambitions that lead her to launch a social networking company. But despite her intentions and the international press accolades she received as founder of the what looked like the next LinkedIn, the business fizzled.

“Trying to build a venture-backed, high-growth company is pretty much the hardest thing you can do,” she says now, acknowledging her naive assumption that a tech company would be easier to start than a physical one.

A true entrepreneur, Bourgoin is using lessons learned from her ill-fated startup to power her current project, developing workshops to help Atlantic Canadian tech companies beat the odds. “This isn’t just a problem in the startup community. Whether you’re an enterprise company launching a new product, whether you’re a small business or a tech founder, your chances of success are about five percent,” Bourgoin says. “It makes sense in early stage companies, but why is Google launching products that fail?”

The answer she’s found is that businesses don’t really know what their customers want, and this lack of what Bourgoin calls “customer intelligence” leads to bad decisions. Aiming for better outcomes, here are her tips for staring a startup right.

1 Fall in love with the customer's problem—not your first solution
"Great products solve real problems. But studies show that one of the top reasons why startups fail is because they build a product that no one needs. In other words, they fall in love with their idea before figuring out if anyone even wants to buy it yet. This is a surefire path to heartbreak."
Resource: Love the Problem, Not Your Solution

2 Dive into customer discovery like it's your job—because it is
"One of best ways to validate if your idea is worth pursuing is by talking to potential customers. This is also called customer discovery or customer research. At this stage, you don't want to spend time talking about your idea or pitching your solution. You want to ask them what they think of the solutions that are currently available and learn how those products miss the mark."
Resource: 95 ways to find your first customers for customer development or your first sale

3 Develop your value proposition hypothesis
"It's important to spend a bit of time thinking about how your product creates value for your ideal customers. In marketing, this is called your value proposition. Think of the first value proposition canvas you create as a living document. It's a hypothesis that you want to test and refine by talking to more potential customers."
Resource: Value Proposition Canvas

4Put your idea to the "eyebrow test”
”A great way to test your idea before spending a dollar or writing a line of code is by using what's known as the ‘eyebrow test.’ People lie, but their eyebrows don't."
Resource: Passing “The Eyebrow Test”: How to win your next pitch by perfecting your patter

5 Join the startup community
"Anyone  interested in building a tech startup should check out Volta Labs and consider becoming a network member. (It's free!) If you decide to go ahead with your idea you'll want to be surrounded by other crazy, ambitious people who will celebrate the highs with you and support you during the low times—and there will be lots of low times. Building a tech company is hard. It's way too hard to do alone."
Resource: Volta's network membership



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