Hub LA member Mike Tringe is the founder of CreatorUp, an online film school. This blog post is a version of a talk he gave at Innovate Pasadena.
How long does it take to take your awesome new startup idea from the donut shop conversation phase to the real customer and company phase? Here is a snapshot of our journey, where CreatorUp went from an idea written on a giant sheet of paper with a marker to a global e-learning platform.
Advances in technology and open source tools have empowered the first time entrepreneur to build any business they can think of. And the explosion of ideas for new businesses and apps, accelerator programs, and startup weekends have facilitated the jumpstart.
But with this startup jumpstart comes a challenge: there is a lack of support, planning, and experience over the amount of time actually necessary to bring an idea to market effectively. And without sustainable revenues, that becomes a big problem sending a lot of great ideas from the entrepreneurs behind them to the graveyard prematurely.
The burden lies on the entrepreneur to move as quickly as possible. I wanted to share my experience to provide a realistic timeframe for entrepreneurs to gain insight into our journey. There is no right formula or simple calendar, but there is a time-based template that provides a framework for action. Think of it like a game.
How long will it take? From household startup names like Shazam (founded in 1999) to consumer facing business movements like CrossFit (founded in 1996), you might be blown away by how long they’ve been around - or how long it took them to get to your doorstep or become a part of your life.
This is our generalized timeline with all the dates taken out and starting from our earliest month, and putting you and your potential company in the driver’s seat of the phase that I experienced. You might be surprised by the order of events.
MONTH 1: THE PROBLEM
You’re annoyed. Something bothers you that you want to fix. You don’t know how to fix it yet, but you know that you are the best and only person in the world who has the expertise and the background to be able to solve it. Write down the problem. For me, this was working at a Digital Network called Blip where we had 50K shows to service, and only one of me (or a few of us on the Content Partnerships team) to help them learn how to make and monetize their video content more effectively. At a more macro-level, the problem there was no single fast affordable place for anyone to learn how to make great videos from professionals who knew what they were doing.
MONTH 2: YOUR PARTNER
You’re not sure if you’re going to work by yourself, or with someone else. But the only way that you can manage to do everything, or even stay accountable towards getting anything done is by finding a partner. Find your partner, or don’t. But move beyond this phase after month 2. For me this partner was someone who I had known almost ten years from my film school days, and she happened to be a friend. Sara and I were passionate about the idea at a fundamental level. We dearly missed and loved film school, but we hated how exclusive, expensive, and time consuming it was.
MONTH 3: THE SOLUTION
Make your hypothesis for your solution. You don’t know what the solution is yet, but you need to come up with a hypothesis for that solution and build it or test it somehow. The simplest way to do this is to outline your solution to the problem, in way that it can be built fast. Go pitch your solution at an event with a lot of people who understand startups. For us, this was StartUp Weekend Santa Barbara. That event was the spark that told us we should move forward. You are now at the 3 month point, and if you’re not to the solution, you should stop. Turn back. And start over or re-calibrate.
MONTH 4: THE CUSTOMER
Talk to potential customers. Don’t leave this step out. Don’t build something without talking to potential customers. Hold a Google Hangout and get your customers to tell you what their problems are, since from this point on you’re testing your hypothesis. For us, this step was literally Google Hangouts. This is about the time when our first developer who met at StartUp weekend dropped out. So we no longer had a way to move to the next step, but that’s exactly what we had to do. So we scrambled to find a new developer who could help us. He happened to be a front end developer named Hugh, but that turned out to be okay for us at the phase were at. It was that or nothing. So we chose to move forward, and he turned out to become a co-founder adding incredible insight around e-learning, branding, and marketing that we never would have found on our own.
MONTH 5: THE MVP
Now you need to build your “Minimum Viable Product” - that is the fastest, ugliest, but functional version of whatever it is that you’re doing. It just needs to work, and customers have to be able to use it. We talked to students, asked them what they didn’t know, and recorded our first video tutorial with me in front of the camera sharing what I knew about video monetization, an important topic to our early community. The first version didn’t look good enough. We re-recorded it and were “happy enough” with putting it out there - and got 3 more courses shot by working with teachers we trusted on topics our customers cared about. We worked with our new developer to build a simple site to be able to sell the video tutorial. We knew that we would need something more special than video tutorials to make this into our vision of creating a film school experience with interactive feedback loops, but this was a great first step.
MONTH 6: TEST MVP
Launch your MVP. That means either getting it on the public facing website or distributed through the app stores. But at this phase, you have to put something in the market. For us, we had our first video tutorial, and we had a website where somebody could actually purchase it. And lo and behold, after waiting and wishing and wondering if anyone every would actually click the purchase button, I woke up the weekend after Thanksgiving, thinking that I might have been crazy after these last six months, with somebody who purchased our first course. I was afraid they would want a refund, thinking they wouldn’t have seen the value - or maybe I felt like we were tricking people. But when I reached out and sent them an email and asked them what they thought, they said they loved it. And were so happy to find us. And that there was nothing else out there like this. And that’s when I knew we were on the right track, and that we should keep going. Our vision was to make high quality visual and creative arts education that helps people build their careers and make money at what they love doing - more accessible to the world. And we had taken the first steps to making that a reality by turning our donut shop idea into an actual product that solved a problem for real customers.
To learn more about what we’re doing and see what we’ve built so far in the following 12 months, please visit our e-learning platform to make great video content here!