Looking at my LinkedIn profile it shows that I've been working on Suture IO for three years and six months. I have some corollary information that backs that up but it does not seem real. Either it feels much longer or like we really just started.
The earliest receipt I can find is a domain registrar for http://karmapsych.com followed shortly by a confirmation of a logo design service from 99Designs, those receipts are part of a process I have relied on to see how viable a business might be, not fully fitted into "product-market-fit", "LEAN", or any methodology about creating a startup because it's taken as a given or dismissed fully as not useful, but for me it's helped serve as an anchor in my mind that this is the business and this is what it's called, and this is my first experiment to validate if I should go on.
Eric Ries talks about how startups are experiments, using the example of how when he started IMVU an IM company that was trying to bring 3D avatars to instant-messaging clients he skipped a lot of the validated learning, wasted a ton of time and man hours coding a product that nobody wanted.
But the thought that made him sick to his stomach,
"wait a minute, what if we had just created a single web-page, and in three hours created a photo mock up of what the product was going to look like and said 'Hey, download this amazing3D avatar instant-messaging add-on' and had a big DOWNLOAD button."
Would they even have to create the second page that said the product was coming soon or didn't currently exist? No, because nobody would click it.
It's a great talk that I fully recommend but it does seem to skip over the very very beginning, what's thatwebsite called, how would people know to go there, what does the page look like? In 1998 maybe those questions were a bit easier to answer.
Today we have a bigger pool of TLD's (top level domains) available: .biz, .co, .video, etc, but squatters are quick to gather up easy to understand dictionary terms like "healthcare" or "fantasysports". (Domain squatting if you aren't aware is buying a domain with no intent to use but to re-sell at hugely inflated cost.)
There are applications and websites that help you see which domains are available but there's a risk that if not now, at some point they will participate in "domain tasting" where upon searching your domain for availability, the service or an affiliated registrar will purchase the domain and hold it hostage for you to overpay. Instead stick, to using just WHOIS and if you're capable, you can do it right from your terminal.
Once you've settled on your domain, the next step is registering it. As a customer of over 7 years I can still recommend NameCheap although domains.google.com is making headway- in general though, you want something easy, secure, and does not bring up lots of stories of scummy behavior like GoDaddy.
The next part of Eric's experiment is putting up a webpage that has the look and feel of the product you intend to launch and maybe even a description of some of the features you feel are important. If you're making something very small or extremely simple you could probably proceed, for Suture IO it was going to be a platform and one that would solve multiple needs at once since many are interconnected.
So instead of a website how about a survey? I used Google's Surveys to ask and validate what things were most important to potential users of my application. Was it the ability to book a therapy session online or track mental health illness and wellness. I could also use the sample to help prioritize which features entered the development queue should I ever get there, but as a whole I wanted to see if any of this stuff was valuable to anyone. The results confirmed most of what I wanted but I was surprised by them nonetheless. Yes tracking and online-therapy was important, but finding the right doctor ended up highest.
How could that be?
Yelp, Healthgrade, even the insurance companies had their own list of docs with star ratings and locations (why would they employ anyone less than a 5-star doctor though?). It turns out none of those solutions cared at all about finding a doctor that is right for the individual and that those star ratings or grades were mostly meaningless as well.
With that in mind I used my newly minted branding to put up ads on Social Media. I would promise the features most desired from the survey and include my branding and a link to my website. The click-through rate wasn't ground-breaking but it was enough to validate that people were interested and may in fact one day use my product.
The website at first was nothing but an e-mail collector, but over time I was able to put together a look and feel of what I thought the product would look like and do. One of the skills that I bring to the table is UI and UX design after all so mockups are my forté. It was not a three hour adventure as Ries had me believe, but working just on my own with a budget of a few hundred dollars I was still able to validate and learn before proceeding.
When I went to find a tech co-founder that would have the skills to help build this product I went in with more than an idea on a napkin. I was able to show concrete data that this idea had value, that I was able to brand something, and overall people would click that big DOWNLOAD button if we put it in front of them.
We did end up changing the branding and again got to experiment with some creative validated learning like asking people in a night club which version of a logo they liked better, but that was much later on.
Stay tuned for the next step - Finding your Co-founder and your team.