How to Build a Web Startup: Lean LaunchPad Edition

9/22/11Follow @sgblank

As part of our Lean LaunchPad classes at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and for the National Science Foundation, students build a startup in 8 weeks using Business Model Design + Customer Development.

One of the problems they run into is building a website. If you’re an experienced coder and user interface designer you think nothing is easier than diving into Ruby on Rails, Nodes.js and Balsamiq and throwing together a web site. (Heck, in Silicon Valley even the waiters can do it.)

But for the rest of us mortals whose eyes glaze over at the buzzwords, the questions are, “How do I get my great idea on the web? What are the steps in building a web site?” And the most important question is, “How do I use the business model canvas and Customer Development to test whether this is a real business?”

My first attempt at helping my students answer these questions was by putting together the Startup Tools Page – a compilation of available web development tools. While it was a handy reference, it still didn’t help the novice.

So today, I offer my next attempt.

How To Build a Web Startup – The Lean LaunchPad Edition

Here’s the step-by-step process we suggest our students use in our Lean LaunchPad classes.

  1. Set up the logistics to manage your team
  2. Craft company hypotheses
  3. Set up the Website Logistics
  4. Build a “low-fidelity” web site
  5. Get customers to the site
  6. Add the backend code to make the site work
  7. Test the “problem” with customer data
  8. Test the “solution” by building the “high-fidelity” website
(Use the Startup Tools Page as the resource for tool choices)

Step 1: Set Up Team Logistics

Step 2. Craft Your Company Hypotheses (use the Lean LaunchLab)

  • Write down your 9-business model canvas hypothesis
  • List key features/Minimal Viable product plan
  • Size the market opportunity
  • Pick market type (existing, new, resegmented)
  • Prepare weekly 7-minute class progress summary: business model canvas update + weekly Customer Development summary (described after Step 8.)

Step 3: Website Logistics

  • Get a domain name for your company. To find an available domain quickly, try Domize
  • Then use godaddy or namecheap to register the name. (RetailMeNot usually has ~ $8/year discount coupons for Godaddy You may want to register many different domains (different possible brand names, or different misspellings and variations of a brand name.)
  • Once you have a domain, set up Google Apps on that domain (for free!) to host your company name, email, calendar, etc

For coders: set up a web host

BTW: You can see the hosting choices of Y Combinator startups here

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Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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