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How to build a web startup — Lean Launchpad Edition

Steve Blank, lecturer, Haas School of Business | September 22, 2011

As part of our Lean LaunchPad classes at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and for theNational Science Foundation, students build a startup in 8 weeks using Business Model Design + Customer Development.

One of the problems they run into is building a web site.
If you’re an experienced coder and user interface designer you think nothing is easier than diving into Ruby on RailsNodes.js and Balsamiq and throwing together a web site. (Heck, in Silicon Valley even the waiters can do it.)

But for the rest of us mortals whose eyes glaze over at the buzzwords, the questions are, “How do I get my great idea on the web? What are the steps in building a web site?”  And the most important question is, “How do I use the business model canvas and Customer Development to test whether this is a real business?”

My first attempt at helping my students answer these questions was by putting together the Startup Tools Page – a compilation of available web development tools. While it was a handy reference, it still didn’t help the novice.

So today, I offer my next attempt.

How To build a web startup – The Lean LaunchPad edition
Here’s the step-by-step process we suggest our students use in our Lean LaunchPad classes.

  1. Set up the logistics to manage your team
  2. Craft company hypotheses
  3. Set up the Website logistics
  4. Build a “low-fidelity” web site
  5. Get customers to the site
  6. Add the backend code to make the site work
  7. Test the “problem” with customer data
  8. Test the “solution” by building the “high-fidelity” website

(Use the Startup Tools Page as the resource for tool choices)
Step 1: Set Up Team Logistics

Step 2. Craft Your company hypotheses (use the Lean LaunchLab)

  • Write down your 9-business model canvas hypothesis
  • List key features/Minimal Viable product plan
  • Size the market opportunity
  • Pick market type (existing, new, resegmented)
  • Prepare weekly 7-minute class progress summary: business model canvas update + weekly customer-development summary (described after Step 8.)

Step 3: Website logistics

  • Get a domain name for your company. To find an available domain quickly, tryDomize
  • Then use godaddy or namecheap to register the name. (RetailMeNot usually has ~ $8/year discount coupons for Godaddy You may want to register many different domains (different possible brand names, or different misspellings and variations of a brand name.)
  • Once you have a domain, set up Google Apps on that domain (for free!) to host your company name, email, calendar, etc

For coders: set up a web host

BTW: You can see the hosting choices of YCombinator startups here

Step 4: Build a low-fidelity Web site

For non-coders:

For coders: build the user interface

Step 5: Customer engagement (drive traffic to your preliminary website)

  • Start showing the site to potential customers, testing customer segment and value proposition
  • Use ads, text links or Google AdWordsFacebook ads and natural search to drive people to your minimally viable web site
  • Use MailchimpPostmark or Google Groups to send out emails and create groups
  • Create online surveys with Wufoo or Zoomerang
  • Get feedback on your MVP features and U/I

Step 6: Build a more complete solution (Connect the U/I to code)

Step 7: Track your progress in driving traffic – Test the “customer problem” by collecting customer data

Step 8: Test the “customer solution” by building a full featured high-fidelity version of your website

  • Update the Website with information learned in Step 5-7
For all Steps: Monitor and record changes week by week using the Lean LaunchLab

For Class: Use the Lean LaunchLab to produce a 7-minute weekly progress presentation

  • Start by putting up your business model canvas
  • Changes from the prior week should be highlighted in red
  • Lessons Learned.  This informs the group of what you learned and changed week by week – Slides should describe:
  1. Here’s what we thought (going into the week)
  2. Here’s what we found (customer discovery during the week)
  3. Here’s what we’re going to do (for next week)
  4. Emphasis should be on the discovery done for that weeks assigned canvas component (channel, customer, revenue model) but include other things you learned about the business model.

If you’re building a company rather than a class project

Comments, suggestions, corrections, additions and brickbats welcomed.