It is incredibly daunting to create your own startup as a high school entrepreneur. From managing products and planning marketing, to handling finances and suppliers; the whole shebang of responsibilities is pretty intimidating. The idea of starting a business is made even more stressful with the expectation that you need to hit it off big right off the bat. But we’ll let you in on the secret behind BETA Campers’ startups’ success:
You don’t need to launch a perfectly planned business. In fact, you really shouldn’t.
You won’t know whether your idea will be a success until you put it out there. So don’t waste time planning every possible angle of your business. Put something out there. Now.
Start your business small, and give yourself space to improve it as you get customers’ feedback, and as you learn more about your industry, and as you discover new factors. Having a business with pending improvements is better than having no business at all. The process of launching a startup is far more efficient when you put something out there and then work step-by-step towards perfection, instead of keeping it all hidden in a folder on your laptop until you’re confident in it’s faultlessness.
And to make that process easier, we’ve compiled a list of our top tips to help high school entrepreneurs build great businesses:
When creating a new startup, be specific with your target market. This allows you to focus your efforts on helping a particular group as best you can, instead of spreading your resources thin trying to address all aspects of a consumer’s problem. With a more focused niche, you will be able to learn more quickly exactly what that particular type of customer wants. You’ll be able to maximize value for said customer, catering specifically to their needs. This way, you will be able to create higher quality products appealing greatly to a specialized section of the population. Niching allows you to create new market segments within your larger industry, giving you the ability to actually compete with huge companies, who are often far more general.
You can specify your business’s niche by creating products of a particular price range or quality level, and by targeting a particular demographic, psychographic, geographic, or behavioural group of customers. For example, a business creating some form of fitness resource would have a better chance of success if they specifically targeted teenagers in Ontario who had gained weight during quarantine and who wanted to start doing home workouts, but who struggled to stay accountable. A business who is really good at serving a specific niche is more likely to be successful than a business who is just mediocre at serving everyone.
Once your business has a strong and stable presence in your niche, you can definitely consider expanding your focus to include more customers. But remember that one size does not fit all, and that you do not want to become too general too quickly.
When you start a business, you are making inherent hypotheses about the needs of your customers. You assume that whatever product or service you offer can help them solve a problem. Hypothesis testing allows you to confirm these assumptions. Anything that you need to believe to be true in order for your idea to work is a hypothesis. For a business selling desk plants on a subscription basis, their hypotheses could include that “people are willing to buy plants online” and that “people want new plants on a regular basis”.
These hypotheses should be tested on an iterative basis. Generate a list of your hypotheses and prioritize them. Run tests to confirm your most important hypotheses first. Be ready to pivot your business concept if your hypotheses are rejected. Hypotheses can be tested through online research, customer surveys, customer interviews, or in some cases, with actual experimentation.
One of the biggest mistakes a business can make is to spend forever building something no one wants. This is why it is essential to test your hypotheses first, so you know quickly whether you are on track. A minimum viable product- or an MVP- is the least work you have
to do to validate your idea. It ultimately focuses on one thing: getting information regarding how the market is responding to your product. If you get enough information to prove your current hypothesis, move onto the next iteration testing a related hypothesis. If you disprove your current hypothesis, then you know that you need to pivot.
Your market won’t respond to additional features if it doesn’t solve their core problem. To confirm your hypotheses, build the simplest version of your idea to test the market. Instead of going about the effort of designing and manufacturing a flying car, first offer a flying scooter to see whether your target market values your product or not. Your MVP should be cheap to produce, easy to build, and simple with very few features. It should specifically focus on testing 1-2 hypotheses. When deciding whether or not a feature is necessary to include in your minimum viable product, ask yourself whether it’s inclusion will actually give you more information that could prove or disprove your hypothesis. If you can get enough information without including that feature, don’t bother trying to build it until you confirm customers actually want what you have to offer. For you minimum viable product, only include what is absolutely necessary.
You can also test hypotheses without building a full featured product. For example, you could create a landing page or social media to see if people would be interested in your product. Activity on these pages can help you gauge your target market’s interest and commitment to whatever you offer.
Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts, especially since it means a higher chance of long-term success! For instance, your minimum viable product could be developed with no-code tools. You can use an existing solution that is already good enough for your problem.
As you confirm hypotheses and iterate your minimum viable product, you will get closer to confirming product market fit. Product market fit is when the people who want your product (your market) are happy with what you are offering (your product). Investors will look for this kind of traction before they invest their time and money into your company. Having product market fit means having engaged and retaining users, as well as organic acquisition. It should mean that your product is working to satisfy your target market. It doesn’t matter how ingenious your idea is if there’s no audience who wants it. Before you take the effort to build a fully fleshed out product or service, confirm that the problem you’re trying to solve for customers exists, and there’s a clear market who wants your solution. If there isn’t, then pivot your plan- make some tweaks and changes, test again, and see how it goes. The process of testing hypotheses and building iterations of products is a continuous cycle.
To confirm your business is viable, and to confirm that you have product market fit, you do not necessarily need to affect a huge audience or have high quantities of items sold. After confirming that your target market would want your product, you can then take steps to grow into that kind of success. But if your product is not working, it won’t help to go about planning growth activities. At first, most of your time and effort as an entrepreneur will be spent testing, improving, and iterating your product until you get to a point where customers are naturally coming and retaining. Then, after that, you can shift your focus towards scaling your operations.
Your initial minimum viable product should be simple, with the sole goal of testing hypotheses. Once you confirm product market fit, you can start to add sparkles to your products and build up your business by growing and scaling. Growing your business means you are adding resources at the same rate that you are adding revenue. Scaling your business means you are increasing revenue at a faster rate than increasing cost, resulting in long term sustainable profit growth.
There’s many ways to scale your business. You can consider what takes the most time to do, and automate that process. You can consider what you customize for individual customers, and standardize that to lower effort on your end. You can consider your own personal weaknesses, and try hiring or outsourcing. You can consider whether there are any aspects of your product/service that customers do not value, and cut them out of your development efforts. In short, there are plenty of ways to scale your business, and you should keep looking for ways to optimize your productivity.
There are also a variety of ways through which you can grow your business. You can change your growth strategy based on the market you pursue and the product or service you provide. As per the Ansoff matrix, there are four main growth strategies which we recommend.
This means growing within your current market with your current products. Namely, you could develop stronger sales and marketing plans to get more customers like the ones you currently have.
This entails introducing new products to your current market. If there is something else your current customers want, you could try to create it. Ultimately, try catering to another need that your target market has. And remember, when developing a new product or service, you will need to go through the, albeit possibly shortened, process of hypothesis testing.
This means introducing your current product to a new market. You could try using your current product to serve a new customer segment.
This involves a new market and new product. This is harder to accomplish and is often undertaken by larger companies with a portfolio of smaller companies and brand-lines under them.
With all this in mind, remember that most businesses are not an overnight success. It takes time an effort to build a successful business. Start specific, reiterate reiterate reiterate, and finally, grow your company to it’s full potential.
You aren’t expected to know everything right away. Sign up for high school entrepreneurship programs, high school summer programs, and enrichment programs. Put yourself out there to learn more about entrepreneurship for high school students! If you’re interested in learning to build a startup business during a leadership programs for high school students, check out our entrepreneurship program here!
Ashley Qian participated in BETA Camp in Summer 2021. Amidst strict lockdowns, Ashley found a community of driven and ambitious students that made her braver, and more ambitious. Ashley is now working on a project that helps dementia patients through virtual reality, alongside a new role as chapter development officer for Ontario DECA.
Incoming high school senior, creative agency founder, and BETA Camp alumni Jane Wu tells us about her experiences in entrepreneurship— from prototypes of sanitization products to newsletters and graphic design.
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