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How to evaluate startup ideas

We spoke to Jorg Kop, managing director at UtrechtInc and founder of Snappcar, to discuss how to evaluate startup ideas.

DISCLAIMER: This interview was recorded and introduced as a lecture for our free online 10 week program, StartupLeap. It has been edited for clarity purposes. Watch the recording for the full conversation.

Over the course of his extensive career, Kop has worked for corporates, invested in startup, and founded a couple of startups, before taking the managing director position at UtrechtInc.

How do you evaluate a startup idea?

“In my mind, there is no best startup idea and the reason why is that there are so many variables adding to a good result. For example, a good team and a bad idea can eventually still work out, where a bad team and a good idea will definitely not.”

“Next to that, timing is very important. I founded Snappcar in 2011, in the middle of the crisis, and it wouldn’t have made sense to do it in any other time and age. People were looking for ways to save money and to make an extra buck.”

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What team do you start with?

“You start out with complementing team members. Preferably the hacker, the hustler, and the hipster. In other words, the programmer, the sales person, and the designer. At the same time, you should be careful not to let anyone in, just because they fit that role. You should be cautious to collaborate with family, as it might ruin the whole family and that’s not what you want either. The same goes for friends. If it makes sense from a commercial and complimentary point of view, sure, but it’s tricky if you just like to work together.”

How do you influence timing?

“This is difficult and that’s why you need to validate your idea. To start, make sure you are as objective as possible, because you will love your idea, but in the end you’re also the one to kill the idea if it doesn’t work. So by being as objective as possible, you’ll have at least a better view on that.”

“Secondly, once you are objective, you have to use tools like the lean model canvas or business model canvas. Because, by using those tools you are urged to bring all kind of thoughts together and once you have those on paper, you can start defining assumptions and test those assumptions. Then you need to find customers. Which can be tricky, because it’s easy to look to close friends and relatives for answers, but they want you to like them, so they will give you likeable answers. And those are not always the answers you need. So once again, try to be as objective as possible.”

“Then, when you’ve validated your assumptions, you build a minimal viable product, or MVP, or if you’re building a hardware product, you start a campaign on something like Indiegogo. Again, to find the right information. There are so many boobytraps to fall into because you’re too eager to start with the idea that you initially had in your mind.”

Does it help if you know the market or if you start with an outsider’s perspective?

“I think both can work. If you’re in a very specialised market, it can definitely help to know about the details. Having said that, a fresh mind, an objective mindset, can also lead to good results. In the end it’s all about identifying a pain in a market and solving that with your business idea.”

“If it’s an idea that’s close to your heart, it can bring you further than just an idea found somewhere on the street or an idea that you heard from a friend. For example, when I founded Snappcar, it was because I had a pain. I had to give back the keys of my lease car and by giving back the keys I lost my mobility in a way that I was used to. So I bought a way too expensive car, without realising what the actual costs of a car were and how inflexible I was with that car.”

“So at that moment, I looked around in my street and I saw many cars standing still. Cars for all kinds of moments. I started ringing doors and I asked: ‘hey, can I borrow your car?’ But people looked at me as if I were asking the weirdest question ever. Which was fine for me, as long as they told me why. Why can’t I borrow your car. Because then, all of a sudden, there were all kind of showstoppers. And then I realized, shit, so I have a problem and a solution, but the people I need are not cooperating. So it’s up to me to find a solution to overcome those showstoppers. And once I overcome those, I have a business.”

Would you focus on one idea or multiple?

“In the end, focus is key, so focus on one idea, but focus on the right idea. Don’t put too much in working out the complete idea. Start validating as soon as possible, pivot where possible, and when you feel that is the only solution, start another idea.”