Whether you’re launching a new product or service from within an existing enterprise, or you’re an entrepreneur noodling a new startup idea, I find that the same fundamental set of screening questions can help you shape your idea.
I’ve assembled these questions into a 12-point framework I call the Launch Lens.
As you screen new-business ideas, the Launch Lens gives you a quick way to focus your thinking and flesh out the concept. First-pass, do your answers to the questions make you feel more excited about your business idea? Or does the Lens uncover red flags that might give you pause about moving forward? And if your idea passes a first-order screen and you decide to dive deeper, the framework gives you guidance as to where to focus your research and analysis as you develop your plan.
Let’s zoom in on each ‘focal point’ of the Launch Lens:
1. Who are your customers?
What I mean here is to generically describe the types of customers (not to list your specific customers).
That is, what are the categories of consumers, businesses or other entities that will purchase and use your product or service?
If you have a consumer product, is your target market Hispanic pre-teen girls in Southern California… or Baby Boomer men and women throughout North America… or music lovers over 30 with disposable income of $35,000 or higher… or whom? Be as clear as possible.
If you have a business-to-business product, is your target market warehouse operators of a certain size… small independent retail establishments…. software developers…. financial institutions… or whom?
2. What is your customers’ unmet need?
To state this question another way, what is the customers’ “pain” that your product or service – you’ll be describing that in question #5 – is designed to ameliorate or address? This could be a true and dramatic unmet need – for instance, for the inventors of the pacemaker, the customers’ unmet need was that their hearts were beating slowly or unpredictably, thereby endangering their lives. On the other hand, for some businesses, the unmet need might be a less of a need than a want – for instance, for the founders of LoveThoseHotShoes.com, the “unmet need” might be the frustration of style-conscious women in their inability to learn about up-and-coming designers before they make it big, and to easily purchase those designers’ shoes at competitive prices.
3. How are your customers addressing this need today, however poorly?
Even if your company has a novel new way of addressing a customer need, remember that those customers were addressing that need in some other fashion before you came along. Say you had developed the first automatic dishwasher: your customers would have been addressing their need by hand-washing dishes. Before the advent of the cell phone, individuals got along with a combination of landlines at home, in their offices, and in phone booths. Before SMS texting, people got by with email. Before email, people made due with phone calls and postal mail.
4. To what extent are your customers hurt by not being able to meet this need effectively?
If they’re business customers, does their inability to address their need optimally (i.e., using your company’s new solution) cause poorer product quality for them? Does the pain delay their product launch by several weeks, thereby postponing profits? Does the absence of your solution lead to more clinical errors?
If you’re targeting consumers, does the pain cause them to look unstylish at school, thereby causing loss of social status? Fail to connect with friends due to the lack of your social networking app?
5. What is your proposed solution (product, service, or combination)?