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New Venture Checklist

Starting something new can be exciting, but it is important to approach venture creation thoughtfully and systematically. It’s much easier to come up with an idea than it is to build a company or to get customers to change their behavior. The following questions are designed to help you think about the venture.

Contact: Fatema Basrai

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Background Research

We are all creatures of habit, and we have limited resources. Getting people to try something new is difficult, and changing behaviors over the long-term is even more challenging. Beyond that, our free time, attention, and financial resources are limited. In order to get someone to give you their attention or to consider changing their habits, you need to offer them something that is significantly better that what they currently have.

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  • How do you know this is a problem?
  • Who is affected by this problem, and in what ways?
  • How is this problem currently being addressed? Who else is working on this issue? Where are there gaps in that work?
  • How large is this problem currently for that group of people? Can you quantify it (using lives, hours, dollars, etc.)?

Creating a Hypothesis & Testing It

When you’re starting a venture, you’re first and foremost trying to learn about your audience—and how they’ll interact with your idea. Your idea itself is a hypothesis—a notion that X product or service will have Y affect on your target population. To test that hypothesis, we create tools like prototypes that help us learn. The kinds of prototypes we create can also make use of a cost-efficient approach that helps us learn quickly and inexpensively, and devote resources to versions of the idea that are more likely to succeed.

  • What is your idea?
  • What kind of change do you hypothesize your idea will bring about?
  • Why is that change significant for your target population? How would it change the status quo?
  • How will you test your hypothesis?
  • What is your test market? How will you chose a group from your target population to work with for testing?
  • What would be your minimum viable product (MVP)?
  • How do you define the minimum acceptable result in order to launch or continue with your project?
  • What is the cost to test your hypothesis with a MVP?

Thinking Long-Term

Most ventures require financial backing in order to be sustainable. Funding enables you to hire staff, secure space, market your work, and invest in developing your idea. In for-profit companies, investors give money upfront with the expectation that over time, the profit from products or services sold will earn them back more than they invested. In non-profit companies, donors provide funds with the expectation that some unmet societal needs will be improved upon. While a nonprofit is not judged based on how much money it can earn (and return to investors), it is evaluated on how much measurable impact in can make.

  • What kind of structure or venture would best serve your idea and intended impact?
  • What is your business model?
  • How often will your customers need or want what you’re selling?
  • What kind of capital will you need to get started?
  • What key impact metrics will your venture focus on?

Personal Introspection

Behind every venture is a person with an idea. Many of those people and ideas are incredibly dedicated and do secure some startup funding. But the truth is that very few startups survive more than a year. Founders need to have conviction and grit to get through tough times. They also need to have a vision that they can use to mobilize their team, their partners, and their customers.

  • What drew you to this problem or working with this target community?
  • Why do you want to start a venture? There are many ways to create impact.
  • How much time can you commit to this project per week?
  • How will this project fit into your other commitments?
  • How much success do you need to achieve in the first six months in order to keep going? In the first year?
  • How comfortable are you with selling your idea and getting buy-in from others?
  • How comfortable are you with uncertainty and failure?
  • What effects will it have on your and your life if you fail?
  • What type of partners or advisors would help your venture?
  • Do you have a team? What skillsets do you have within your team? What skillsets are missing from your team?