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The 20 Reasons Startups Fail

Build Your Startup Like a Serial Entrepreneur

Designing your business model

The FLEX Planner is the container in which each of your experiments live.

Let’s look at a quick example of a Validate stage FLEX as a reference if you need to build an experiment in this stage.

At the top of the FLEX document, our first job is to identify the Founder Roadmap stage you are in and which question holds your focus. In this case, it is the Validate stage. We are asking the question: “Have you found a customer with a problem?”

For this example, we are looking at starting a product-based dog shampoo business. What are the experiments that you could run for this business to find out if it is worth pursuing or not? The riskiest assumption based on our location on the Founder Roadmap is: Owners of long-haired dogs struggle to keep their dogs clean.

Let’s investigate this assumption. There is a clear customer segment, which is owners of long-haired dogs. There is a problem statement, which is that this customer segment struggles to keep their dogs clean.

Notice that we did not frame this as a solution, which might have looked like, “Owners of long-haired dogs need a better dog shampoo.” If we had framed it as a solution, we would have assumed that they have the problem of keeping their dogs clean to begin with. Using an assumption framework rather than a solution framework allows for the solution to be a shampoo … or not. We need to focus on the customers’ problem(s), rather than be married to our solutions.

To find out if our assumption is true or false, we set up a very basic experiment to test if our hypothesis is true. In our doggie shampoo example, our hypothesis is: “If I interview 10 owners of long-haired dogs, then five will tell me that they struggle to keep their dog clean.”

There are three components of any hypothesis. First is the repeatable action, which is interviewing owners of long-haired dogs. The next piece is what are we measuring. We are hoping that five out of 10 owners articulate the problem statement. The last piece is the outcome that we expect to happen. In our interviews, I expect the owners will tell me that they struggle to keep their dogs clean.

You will build every single hypothesis that you put together out of these three components. What is your repeatable action, what is your metric, and what is the expected outcome?

Then come the action steps. In our example, that is to create interview questions, then go to the often-busy dog park Washington Park (always be specific so your execution plan is clear), then approach in person and interview 10 owners of long-haired dogs, and then record the results. Document all the steps that you need to take to actually complete the experiment.

Once you have run the experiment, then you can fill out the last half of the FLEX Planner, reporting on what is working and what is not working so you can plan your next steps.

Let’s look at the results of our example to show how detailed results should be so that you can best plan your path forward. We interviewed 12 owners of dogs with long hair, exceeding our goal of 10. We found that eight of the 12 said (after we asked non-leading questions) that keeping their dogs clean was a problem. In our questions, we probe deeper if they said they have the problem to find out what they are doing to solve the problem and if they are satisfied with their solution. Six of 12 said they were unsatisfied with current solutions, which is really interesting. Of those six people, four owned Huskies, just an interesting data point that I think is worth noting here as we drill down into our early adopter profile. All six people gave me their contact information when I asked if I could follow up with them later on if I had more questions or needed to do more research.

Out of a very simple experiment, we learned even more great information. We learned we found a concentration of potential customers at this location, and that it was busiest later in the day. Now we know when and where it might be best to execute tiny, fast experiments in the future: more interviews, demos, pop-up shops, etc. The customer segment definitely struggles to keep their dogs clean; eight out of 12 people was more than what we needed to hit our goal. Interestingly enough Husky owners might be a niche audience to market to, and is worth digging into further.

Our simple Validate stage FLEX experiment set us up for more incredibly useful experiments in the future.