Besides clarity, a roadmap will help you answer many important questions about customer … [+]
A startup vision keeps you on track towards the end destination. A roadmap guides you towards accomplishing preset goals within a predetermined period of time. Think of roadmaps as short stops that when added up will take you to the final station. They help you answer, what is our short-term goal and how do we get there?
At the idea stage, the goal of the roadmap is to clarify your path to launching a product people need and pay for. Besides clarity, a roadmap will help you answer many important questions about customer expectations, product functionality and customer acquisition which helps you avoid costly mistakes later on. Here’s how to create a startup launch roadmap.
1. Start With Your Resources
A common roadmapping mistake is creating a plan without accounting for the resources required to execute on it and reach a target. In many cases, entrepreneurs quit halfway through or fail to accomplish the desired outcome simply because their time or investment is insufficient.
You can always make progress no matter the resources, the first step is to set a realistic and achievable goal around your time and money. Since we are focused on startup launch, this could mean extending or accelerating your path to market.
Even if you are confident about the validity of the product based on experience and customer interviews, your resources can dictate whether you should launch a solid version of the product, a minimum viable product, a prototype or even just an experiment for another layer of idea validation.
Furthermore, even if you are confident about the validity and effectiveness of certain customer acquisition channels, your resources should help you determine the best channel to focus on at this stage. With limited financial resources, it could be inbound marketing channels instead of paid advertisement.
In many cases, the best and quickest path may require more resources than you have or willing to invest. Waiting for when those resources are available is not the right solution. Instead, you are better off focusing on scoring smaller wins because those wins add up very quickly.
2. Set A Goal And Work Backwards
With a clear launch goal such as taking a product to market with ten paying customers, it’s time to create a roadmap that will get you there. Working backwards helps you answer, what steps do we need to take to accomplish this goal?
Here’s a summarized example of a roadmap I helped an entrepreneur create and execute on towards product launch with 50 paying customers which we wanted to achieve within 6 months.
- State hypotheses: Who’s our ideal buyer? What’s their most urgent need? What’s our proposed solution? and, what’s our most viable acquisition channel?
- Conduct customer interviews for qualitative validation of stated hypotheses.
- Design and run an experiment with a paid solution to quantitatively test qualitatively validated hypotheses.
- Create product designs and user flow based on insights from the last two stages.
- Share and validate designs with interviewed customers.
- Build the core features of the apps based on the previous stage.
- Invest in customer acquisition based on validated customer acquisition channel.
- Launch the apps with paying customers.
As you can see, this simplified plan only includes the What but not the How. In your roadmap, especially if it’s your first startup, make sure you figure out and include the How, at least for one or two stages at a time.
To simplify and visually clarify your plan, I suggest using roadmapping and diagramming tools. Because each stage will also have many smaller stages, those tools can help you list the steps and create weekly plans and goals.
Additionally, because many of your planned launch stages depend on the customer, it is common that the plan changes multiple times from idea until launch. Those tools can help you create different scenarios within the same plan. For example, if the experiment in the third stage above fails to quantitatively validate our key hypotheses, what do we need to do and how do we get back on track?
Before executing on your roadmap, make sure to share it with your mentor, co-founder or your app development team for review and feedback. Roadmapping serves as your guide in your path to launch. The last thing you want is to follow a plan that will deviate your focus and waste your resources.
3. Control The Input, Not The Output
In startups and business in general, many paths can take you to the same destination. No matter the route you take, it’s never going to be linear. Your roadmap will set you off in the right direction and show you the most important stops but will never perfectly predict your journey. Why? Simply because most of your launch steps depend on external factors such the customer and the market.
Therefore, now that you know what you need to do and where you are heading, focus on the input, on what you can control and worry less on the output. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” says Mike Tyson. If you get that punch like customers find no need for your solution, focus on the input like figuring out what the customer really needs instead of obsessing about the output and quitting too soon.