40 questions from Y Combinator to crash-test your startup

Questions. We answer hundreds of questions every day. Some of them are minor and have no special meaning, some require us to make decisions, and some make us think carefully. If you are running a startup, you should make decisions and answer questions much more than anybody else — to employees, clients, partners, investors, and it’s just at work.

If you lost in your daily routines, if operations take all your time, try to stop and ask yourself the right questions. You know, sometimes answering the right questions can help you clarify what are you doing and where are you going now. If you haven’t started your startup yet — it’s the best time to answer on all this list.

As anyone involved with startups will tell you, the focus is key to success. In this article, we gathered some insights from Michael Seibel, CEO at Y Combinator & co-founder of two startups — Twitch and Socialcam. These questions can bring all aspects of the startup into alignment and shows what you need to accomplish to ensure the success/survival of your venture.

All questions are split into the groups: Problem, Customer, Product, Performance, Product Development. Let’s describe each group to make it clear.

1. Problem

Take a look around at the products and services you are currently using and surrounded by. Why are they there? Because they are solving a problem or filling a need, you would otherwise be experiencing. This is how all great inventions and startup businesses are born — from a problem or need.

Startup founders can often find themselves working on an idea that sounds plausible, but does not provide a solution to a problem people care about in a meaningful way. Y Combinator founder and investor Paul Graham says that often, these startups are born from individuals who are simply “trying to think of startup ideas” and not looking for problems. Graham calls these ideas “made-up” or “sitcom” startup ideas, as they sound like something a writer for a television sitcom would come up with when creating a script for a character that had a business idea. The idea seems possible, even though, in reality, it is bad, and no one would use or buy it.

“The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not ‘think up’ but ‘notice.’ At YC we call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders’ own experiences ‘organic’ startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.” — Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator.

And often, these ideas begin with someone trying to solve an organic problem for him or herself. A good example is Netflix. Netflix founder Reed Hastings started his service in 1997 after paying a $40 late fee for renting Apollo 13. In Hastings’s mind, having to go to the store to rent and return movies, especially when late fees are involved, is a pain. The rest is history.

2. Customer

3. Product

If you want to hear a magic formula on how to achieve it, here it is — build products, talk to users, eat, sleep, and nothing else. A founder’s goal is to make something that users love. It’s better to build something that a small number of users love, instead of something a large number of users like. If you make something people love, they will tell their friends about it. Over the long run, great products win. Start something simple, talk to users, don’t use AdWords, just go talk to people around you. Get users manually. You have to do sales and customer service yourself.

4. Performance

5. Product Development

Ok, now you know the five fundamental categories for each startup: Problem, Customer, Product, Performance, Product Development. It’s a time for the full list of questions for each category. Answer on all of them fairly. Don’t shy to be honest, at least with yourself.

THE LIST OF QUESTIONS FOR STARTUP FOUNDERS:

1. Problem

  • What problem will be solved at the end of what you are doing?
  • What do we expect the result to be?
  • Can you state the problem clearly in two sentences?
  • Have you experienced the problem yourself?
  • Can you define this problem narrowly?
  • Who can you help first?
  • What can we address immediately?
  • How do we get the first indication this thing is working?
  • Is the problem solveable?

2. Customer

  • Who is the ideal first customer?
  • How will they know if your product has solved the problem?
  • How often(frequency)does your user have the problem?
  • Who is getting the most value out of your product?
  • How intense is the problem?
  • Are they willing to pay?
  • How easy is it for your customer to find your product?
  • Which customers should you run away from?

3. Product

  • Which customers should you go after first?
  • How do you find people who are willing to use your“bad”first versions of your product?
  • Who are the most desperate customers as how do you talk to them first?
  • Whose business is going to go out of business without using you?
  • Are you discounting or starting with a super low price? Are you consider this approach? If so, why?

4. Performance

  • What 5–10 metrics are you measuring to understand how your product functions? Why those metrics?
  • When you build a new product or feature, what is the metric that will improve because of that feature/product?
  • What number do you track to show how well your company is doing?
  • What is your top level KPI(revenue,usage)?
  • What are the underlying metrics that contribute to achieving your top level KPI(newusers, retention of users, content created => DAUs at Social Cam)?
  • Which of these metrics are you trying to move this development cycle?

5. Product Development

  • Who is writing down notes at your product dev meeting?
  • Which category does each of your brainstormed ideas fit: New features/interactions on existing ones; bug fixes/other maintenance; A/B tests?
  • How easy/medium/hard are they to do?
  • How can you restate the hard ideas (disaggregate idea into smaller ideas)?
  • What parts of hard ideas are useless or hard? Are there other options?
  • Which hard idea will improve act the KPI the most? Which medium? Which easy?
  • What is the spec for the product/feature we want to build?

Here is it. 40 real questions to crash-test your startup. Answer them all.
If you have any questions for us — feel free to write us. We offer free consultations for startup founders. Just book your time via the contact form.

Originally published at https://www.molfar.io

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