Nick Kerigan, managing director future payments at Barclaycard, explains how tech startup founders can get their visions past the drawing board.
So, you’ve identified a problem, and think you’ve cracked how to solve it. What next?
Sometimes coming up with a solution is the easy part – turning an idea into a reality is when the hard work begins and the writer’s block can really take hold.
For a number of years, Barclaycard has supported startups going through the Barclays Accelerator programme. During that time, I’ve spoken to entrepreneurs who’ve found that the hardest part of getting to where they want to be is knowing how to get their vision past the drawing board.
We say innovation is continuously striving to find better ways to meet or exceed stakeholder needs. That means innovation isn’t a thing we do, it’s a mindset. It’s about a culture of being more inquisitive, finding better ways of doing things and challenging the status quo, whether it is in continuous improvement or creating new products.
That also means there isn’t just one step-by-step journey that suits all startups, and there’s certainly no template for success. But there are certain ways of working that can help you get from beginning to end and the more you do this, the better you get – like training a muscle.
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What’s the problem?
First, it is crucial that you clearly define the problem you are trying to solve; validating both the issue and your proposed solution is critical to success.
Find yourself a sounding board – whether it’s another innovator, an entrepreneur or someone with experience in this space. The best entrepreneurs may have been helped along by tenacity and intellect, but they also have a strong sense of how their idea would work in the real world, because they test it along the way.
Finding an informal way to engage with those who have success under their belt provides a great opportunity to try your idea with an honest and experienced audience – an audience which might just help you take that idea to the next level.
Does your idea deliver?
Next, consider how watertight your idea is. Is it a good fit for your target audience? How much of the problem that you’ve identified (and confirmed exists) does it solve? Does it leave anything behind?
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The most successful ideas have ‘product / market fit’, meaning that it will meet a clear customer need. They might not tackle every single bit of a problem, but they make a compelling offer and address at least a significant part of the issue, so you need to make sure you’re clear on how what you are proposing does that.
There is no better way to test your product and get buy-in than to create a prototype. Develop something that people can touch and feel, something that gives them a hands-on sense of how your solution works and how it can help them.
For those who are at the start of this phase, it’s important to first get the design down on paper. When you do this it’s essential that you have the user journey in mind and how your prototype provides a solution.
Interrogate just how well what you have developed gives potential customers a feel for how you will make their lives easier. Once you have established that, think about the way it’ll work and spend time identifying and addressing any potential flaws and criticisms you may come up against.
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Spread the word
The next critical stage to ensure your success is drumming up wider support. Be clear on your target audience – those you know could benefit from your idea – and seek out opportunities to show them how it works. Think about how you can engage with relevant business owners that could support you and help bring your idea to life.
Use any connections you make along the way to help you grow your proposition: undergoing a period of thorough user and customer testing, jumping at opportunities to get into the live test environment and collecting as much feedback as you can will ultimately make your product stronger and more successful.
Throughout this part of the process, don’t bite off more than you can chew, but work towards your minimum viable product (MVP) – an iteration of your product which might not be final, but can be launched to early adopters.
Whilst this isn’t a fait accompli – you’ll still need to revert to them to help develop the final product – initial feedback at this stage will help guide you through future iterations.
Innovation journeys don’t have just one end point; there are successes at every stage of the process. Successful products are often the 80th, 90th or even 100th iteration of that idea, so use each stage as a chance to evaluate and improve. You will need to have resilience but don’t lose hope, you will also learn a huge amount from the ideas that never move forward.
The final, but not finite stage, is evolution. Reflect on user feedback and whether there is sufficient support for the MVP to be launched as it is. Your solution might be complete, or user feedback may steer you to combine your product with another as part of a bigger proposition.
Alternatively, your product might evolve into something entirely different. The key thing is that even if you launch, you should continue to develop your solution to ensure it responds to your audience’s feedback.
That’s where that idea of innovation being continuously striving comes back in – as customer expectations change and evolve you should be always seeking to meet or exceed them.