The time and place are set. You meet, shake hands, order your pour-over coffees or craft beers. You chat about how things are going in your lives. Then the moment comes. The startup founder pulls out the appropriate smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and asks if they can receive some feedback on their product.
I have many of these conversations every year, most often with startups that employ designers as one of their core founders or first hires. The founders I meet with often have design training and are well aware of the benefits of taking a human-centered design approach to their product from day one. Their team understands that a visually beautiful user interface and an "intuitive" user experience emerge from deep understanding of user needs, paired with a willingness to experiment in order to define and refine the product's functionality and content.
However, when designers are seeking to bootstrap a startup product, there are issues that crop up along the way that have to do with the design of their business. Designer founders may not be familiar with how to formulate key performance indicators for their product. How to bring new methods into their business to improve workflow. How to handle the myriad issues that crop up as a product scales from a rough prototype to a system that millions of people are hammering on every second.
A startup needs to balance the different factors that lead to business stability in service of quality product design and smart growth. This means that whenever possible, they should be getting ahead of issues before they impact the quality of their product experience for customers. Startups that take the time to pair decisive action and experimentation with just enough reflection in the following areas can formulate action steps that'll help them reach their business goals with more clarity.
In order to help design-led startups, I've generated a questionnaire that I use to help early founders understand the different types of growth their organization may experience. The questionnaire focuses on six areas of concern that have cropped up over and over again in my mentoring conversations:
- Team Cohesion and Culture
- Expressed Value of Product Solution
- Financial Stability & Business Model Experimentation
- Technology Platform
- Product User Experience & Brand Expression
- Measuring Product Success
I'm sharing this questionnaire here for you to adapt, build upon, and share alike with others under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You can either duplicate it from this Google Drive spreadsheet, which I've posted in a view-only format, or refer to the text included below in this post.
Before I go through the questionnaire's contents, I would like to clarify the way you can use it as a diagnostic tool.
The statements in each area below are representative of the working state of early-stage startups that I've encountered, organized from high maturity to low maturity. For each item, read through the statements and consider how you'd describe your startup in relationship to that item. Some founders are aware of all the items in these areas and are actively working on all of them. Some are aware of most of the items here, but haven't reached a stage in their startup's growth to formulate a point of view. And, in some cases, a few of these items here may be "unknown unknowns" that haven't been dealt with yet. That's why, in the spreadsheet format of this questionnaire, there are areas for you to fill in associated with each section. For each item, you want to answer the following:
How Is Our Startup Doing Here? Where does your startup land on each of the items provided here? The point is not to exactly match one of the statements or another startup. The point is for you to take a moment and articulate how your startup is doing in that area and what level of maturity your organization may have in that area.
Why? Are there any issues or root causes that you can identify, which are either making you successful in that area or holding your startup back?
What Actions Should We Take?: What would you do next to improve how you handle this area? This can often be done even for areas where your startup appears to be doing fine.
Important disclaimer: What I'm sharing is not exhaustive and has been a continual work in progress for my personal advising of design-led startups. This is not meant to be a quiz that you finish, and at the end, say, "I scored 26, so my startup is doing great!" The point is to help you be more strategic about how you plan the growth of all the different facets of your startup and its products. If you do edit or expand upon this questionnaire and share it with others, please write me at david at changeorderblog dot com so I can link to your work and we can all benefit from your input into future versions. Thanks!