According to the Small Business Administration, just one in two businesses with employees survives to see its fifth anniversary. By the 10-year mark, fewer than 30% of businesses with employees remain viable.
Surprisingly, macroeconomic trends have minimal impact on long-term business survival rates. Launching your startup in a down economy doesn’t make it any less likely to last.
Two conditions that do matter to your startup’s out-year viability are the cost and length of its product development cycle. Longer, costlier cycles drain cash on hand while delaying the onset of crucial revenue streams.
Startup founders counting the days until break-even or actively seeking outside capital must focus on streamlining their development cycles. They quite literally can’t afford to wait.
These five strategies are proven to work for early-stage companies in a variety of industries — including, perhaps, yours.
1. Focus on Your Minimum Viable Product.
Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Array your development operation in pursuit of a simple proposition: efficiently bringing a minimum viable product to market.
A minimum viable product is market-ready, not a prototype. But it’s not perfect — merely good enough to perform its intended function and delight your first customers in the process. Founders often deploy minimum viable products in limited release, building credibility and buzz with influential early adopters.
2. Work Off a User Manual Template.
You’ll need to create a user manual for your customers at some point, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — unless that’s what your product or solution is supposed to do.
Instead, use an existing user manual template that’s appropriate for your process and vertical. Though every user manual is a little different, your basic template should include:
- Clear and concise product use instructions written at appropriate reading grade level
- Full treatment of product components and functions
- Acknowledgment of legal or regulatory requirements wherever you plan to take your product to market
- Adequate documentation for Customs clearance
- Brand-faithful design and layout
If you don’t have the internal resources to develop a professional-grade user manual, don’t hesitate to contract the job to a technical writing expert.
3. Implement Standardized Development Processes.
Get your development team onboard with effective revision control and controlled change protocols. If you’re not using an automated solution to manage revision control, put appropriate policies in writing to ensure that no work is lost. Ideally, you’d go one step further and implement a blockchain, autosave, or other solution to reduce error rates and data loss.
Likewise, controlled change policies ensure that the iterative process doesn’t produce any dramatic shifts that compromise the product’s functionality or business case. Institute an orderly, scalable process for filtering product changes through your design and manufacturing operations — and, once your product goes to market, your sales, marketing, and fulfillment operations too.
4. Automate Repetitive Processes & Deploy Simulation Software.
Automate repetitive processes, such as invoicing and bookkeeping, right out of the gate. Silo them from your development team, if possible — assigning a dedicated team member or outside contractor with appropriate credentials to manage them independently of your development operation.
During development itself, utilize engineering simulation software to reduce prototyping costs and shorten trial-and-error timelines. Engineering simulations can dramatically reduce the time it takes you to develop a minimum viable product — and iterate beyond it.
5. Stay Lean and Low.
Don’t skimp on R&D investment, but don’t throw good money after bad either. Institute a process efficiency discipline like Lean or Six Sigma (or Lean Six Sigma), a standardized management framework like EOS, or both. And watch your discretionary expenses: You can’t enjoy catered lunches and office happy hours when you’re out of business.
How are you streamlining your startup’s development process? Share with our readers in the comments section below.