As part of our Lean LaunchPad classes at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and for theNational Science Foundation, students build a startup in 8 weeks using Business Model Design + Customer Development.
One of the problems they run into is building a web site.
If you’re an experienced coder and user interface designer you think nothing is easier than diving into Ruby on Rails, Nodes.js and Balsamiq and throwing together a web site. (Heck, in Silicon Valley even the waiters can do it.)
But for the rest of us mortals whose eyes glaze over at the buzzwords, the questions are, “How do I get my great idea on the web? What are the steps in building a web site?” And the most important question is, “How do I use the business model canvas and Customer Development to test whether this is a real business?”
My first attempt at helping my students answer these questions was by putting together the Startup Tools Page - a compilation of available web development tools. While it was a handy reference, it still didn’t help the novice.
So today, I offer my next attempt.
How To build a web startup – The Lean LaunchPad edition
Here’s the step-by-step process we suggest our students use in our Lean LaunchPad classes.
Set up the logistics to manage your teamCraft company hypothesesSet up the Website logisticsBuild a “low-fidelity” web siteGet customers to the siteAdd the backend code to make the site workTest the “problem” with customer dataTest the “solution” by building the “high-fidelity” website
(Use the Startup Tools Page as the resource for tool choices)
Step 1: Set Up Team LogisticsRead Business Model Generation pages 1-72, and The Four Steps to the Epiphany Chapter 3Set up the Lean LaunchLab or a WordPress blog to document your customer development progressUse Skype or Google+ Hangouts for team conversations
Step 2. Craft Your company hypotheses (use the Lean LaunchLab)Write down your 9-business model canvas hypothesis List key features/Minimal Viable product plan Size the market opportunity Pick market type (existing, new, resegmented)Prepare weekly 7-minute class progress summary: business model canvas update + weekly customer-development summary (described after Step 8.)
Step 3: Website logisticsGet a domain name for your company. To find an available domain quickly, tryDomizeThen use godaddy or namecheap to register the name. (RetailMeNot usually has ~ $8/year discount coupons for Godaddy You may want to register many different domains (different possible brand names, or different misspellings and variations of a brand name.)Once you have a domain, set up Google Apps on that domain (for free!) to host your company name, email, calendar, etc
For coders: set up a web hostUse virtual private servers (VPS) like Slicehost or Linode (cheapest plans ~$20/month, and you can run multiple apps and websites)You can install Apache or Nginx with virtual hosting, and run several sites plus other various tools of your choice (assuming you have the technical skills of course) like a MySQL databaseIf you are actually coding a real app, (rather than for class) use a “Platform As A Service” (PAAS) like Heroku, DotCloud or Amazon Web Services if your app development stack fits their offerings
BTW: You can see the hosting choices of YCombinator startups here
Step 4: Build a low-fidelity Web site
For non-coders:Make a quick prototype in PowerPoint, orUse Unbounce, Google Sites, Weebly, Godaddy or Yola
For coders: build the user interfacePick a website wireframe prototyping tool, (i.e. JustinMind, Balsamiq)99 Designs is great to get “good enough” graphic design and web design work for very cheap using a contest format. Themeforest has great designsCreate wireframes and simulate your “low-fidelity” websiteCreate a “viral” landing page, with LaunchRock or KickoffLabsEmbed a slideshow on your site with Slideshare or embed a video/tour usingYoutube or Vimeo
Step 5: Customer engagement (drive traffic to your preliminary website)Start showing the site to potential customers, testing customer segment and value propositionUse ads, text links or Google AdWords, Facebook ads and natural search to drive people to your minimally viable web siteUse Mailchimp, Postmark or Google Groups to send out emails and create groupsCreate online surveys with Wufoo or ZoomerangGet feedback on your MVP features and U/I
Step 6: Build a more complete solution (Connect the U/I to code)Connect the UI to a web application framework (for example, Node.js, Rubyon Rails, Django, SproutCore, Jquery, Symfony, Sencha, etc.)
Step 7: Track your progress in driving traffic – Test the “customer problem” by collecting customer dataUse Web Analytics tools (Kissmetrics, Google Analytics, Mixpanel, etc.) to track hits, time on site, sourceCreate account to measure user satisfaction (GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, etc.) from your product and get feedback and suggestions on new featuresanalyze the behavior of your user in your website
Step 8: Test the “customer solution” by building a full featured high-fidelity version of your websiteUpdate the Website with information learned in Step 5-7
For all Steps:
Monitor and record changes week by week using the Lean LaunchLab
For Class: Use the Lean LaunchLab to produce a 7-minute weekly progress presentationStart by putting up your business model canvasChanges from the prior week should be highlighted in redLessons Learned. This informs the group of what you learned and changed week by week – Slides should describe:
Here’s what we thought (going into the week)Here’s what we found (customer discovery during the week)Here’s what we’re going to do (for next week)Emphasis should be on the discovery done for that weeks assigned canvas component (channel, customer, revenue model) but include other things you learned about the business model.
If you’re building a company rather than a class projectSearch the US Patent Office (for free) for similar trademarks to yoursWhen you confirmed your product and identity, and obtained a good domain name, and a trademark you think you can own, register your company onTwitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, CrunchBase, and AngelList pages Incorporate the company
Comments, suggestions, corrections, additions and brickbats welcomed.