Uh-Oh! Do You Have a “Sitcom” Startup?

The history of the “sitcom” is one fraught with struggle. The first sitcom was created in 1947 but it took another decade before they became successful due to the difficulty of developing them and lack of sponsorships. Today, there are more than 500 scripted comedies on television, not including reality TV shows like Survivor that also take up much airtime among viewers today.

A startup is a company designed to create and/or distribute products using new technology. The term may refer to the founders of the business as well as those participating in its founding. Types of startups can include computer hardware or software companies, online services, internet-based businesses, biotechnology firms and even traditional brick-and-mortar retailers with an ecommerce component.For the past five years, we’ve been working on a project to create and showcase sitcoms. It’s taken us this long because we wanted to make sure that each show had high production value and was unique in its own right. Now, with Season One of our series out, I’d like to talk about how it all happened from start-to-finish.

Silicon Valley is a place that has been around for decades. It’s the home of many startups and tech companies. If you’re in Silicon Valley, you might be wondering if your company is a sitcom startup.

“The best method to come up with startup ideas is not to attempt to come up with them.” It’s to hunt for issues, particularly ones you’re familiar with.” Paul Graham –

This post is part of our “Business Startup Guide” — a collection of our articles that will help you get up and running quickly!

There are two main reasons why businesses fail: One, the concept is poorly executed (wrong location, poor product, terrible service, and so on), and two, the firm is not producing anything that people desire. Simply expressed, it isn’t addressing a real-world issue.

Even well-known entrepreneurs and investors, such as Paul Graham, have made blunders. Paul founded a corporation in 1995 with the goal of bringing art galleries online. What he didn’t comprehend at the time was that this was not how art gallery patrons wanted things to be done. He was so focused on coming up with a brilliant concept that he didn’t realize his model was flawed until he attempted to persuade consumers to pay for the product he had created. The previous model was in good working order. Paul has since founded and invested in a variety of successful businesses, many of which address unique challenges. To give you a sense of what those issues are or were, here’s a little piece of the pie:

  • Paul’s startup, Viaweb, enables people to create their own internet storefronts. In 1998, it was purchased by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo!Store.
  • Another organization that Paul helped co-found is Y Combinator, which assists entrepreneurs in obtaining financing, with a focus on those founded by young, tech-savvy founders. It’s described as a “hybrid venture capital fund and business school” by Inc. Magazine.
  • Watsi was the first non-profit to receive Y Combinator funding. Kickstarter is a corporation that raises money for “low-cost, high-impact medical care for those in need.”

In reality, as of June 2013, Paul has invested in 564 businesses as Y Combinator. We’ll presume that most of those businesses demonstrated this trait since he’s a firm believer in working with people that solve an issue – not necessarily a huge one, but one that has a market.

Many entrepreneurs, according to Paul’s article on Startup Ideas, construct something that no one wants because they start the process by thinking about startup ideas rather than issues that need to be solved:

“These are what we term “made-up” or “sitcom” company concepts at YC. Assume one of your favorite TV characters is launching a business. It would be up to the authors to come up with something to do with it. However, coming up with solid company concepts is difficult. It’s not something you can do just because you want to. So the authors would come up with a notion that seemed believable but was really awful (unless they were very fortunate).”

Betas is a very genuine ‘sitcom’ that comes to mind because it does just this. Don’t bother watching it if you haven’t already. It’s a low-budget remake of HBO’s Silicon Valley. Betas, in my opinion, was a disappointment not just because it was low-budget, but also because the show’s whole premise – seeking financing for a location-based dating service app (dubbed BRB) – was not a novel concept, nor was the implementation of it. BRB exemplifies what Paul Graham alludes to in the statement above: an idea for the sake of having an idea. BRB isn’t even the main emphasis of the episode. Getting ‘Valley’ recognition and attracting angel financing is the goal.

Silicon Valley, on the other hand, is much wiser, focused on a group of programmers who have devised a compression algorithm to assist composers in determining whether or not their work has infringed on the copyright of others. What is the name of the company? The Pied Piper is a character in the film The Pied Piper Pied Piper is a more solid concept right away since it caters to a very specific target market and addresses a problem better than anybody else. “Pied Piper is a multi-platform technique based on a patented universal compression algorithm that has repeatedly fielded high Weisman ScoresTM that are not only competitive, but approach the theoretical limit of lossless compression,” according to Richard Hendrick. Okay, maybe that’s as perplexing to you as it is to me, but that’s a bold assertion to make, and they back it up. Their emphasis shifts during the episode, but it’s due to the fact that they’ve built something that genuinely answers a need, and the shift allows their specialized notion to reach a far bigger audience. This leads us to the following point.

Many huge ideas start out as little ones.

small ideas can become big ideasMicrosoft, for example, started with a considerably smaller concept. Microsoft’s initial product, a BASIC programming language implementation on an Altair processor, had just a few thousand customers. “People are lousy at looking at seeds and estimating what big tree will develop out of them,” Paul Graham says. It doesn’t imply you don’t have a good concept if you don’t acquire money. Getting finance, on the other hand, does not imply that you have a solid concept! Perhaps you appealed to the investors… After all, one of the key reasons a founder would invest in your firm is because of this. They’re literally putting money into you.

So, how can you know whether your concept is viable? Here are seven useful indicators:

  1. It does if YOU do it. The concept isn’t the end-all and be-all. You and your crew are. Take a look inside. Are you adaptable and vivacious? Are you able to adapt? Do you get along well with each other? If this is the case, you have promise, even if your first concept is modest.
  2. It is financially rewarding. Richard Christensen, entrepreneur and author of The Zig Zag Principle, advises businesses to start by imagining the quickest path to profitability, even if it deviates somewhat from their objectives.
  3. You’ve created a demand. Start by determining whether or not this is correct. Inquire about people’s interest in the concept and utilize this as a starting point. Make careful to ask those who aren’t relatives or friends, since they are more likely to answer favorably. Make use of the internet to verify your company concept. Use Kickstarter or other crowdfunding portals to get a sense of whether or not people are interested in your project. To measure interest, create a pre-launch landing page (ask people to submit their emails). Run an Adwords campaign with keywords related to your concept – be sure to set up conversion monitoring or the exercise will be for nothing. Use advertising tools on other social networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, to do the same thing.
  4. You’re resolving an issue! This is referred to as value generation. Consider this: are you developing something that others will be interested in? How would your suggestion make their lives better?
  5. You really believe in your concept. “Do you really — but not “passionately,” since passion implies an emotional bias, and this is not for you to reflect on your “feelings,” but rather your objective analysis of your idea,” says Marc Hoag, CEO and co-founder of Venture Rocket.
  6. Put it to the test. Begin by developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which is the smallest and most basic form of your concept that enables you to test and learn. Only those features are included in the MVP that enable the product to be deployed. This will also prompt you to return your attention to the subject at hand. If you want to test your MVP, Steve Blank and Bob Dorf’s guide on Minimum Viable Product Testing is a good place to start.
  7. Perhaps your concept isn’t viable. You’ll never know if you don’t start, if you don’t go out there and try. Many entrepreneurs fail numerous times before succeeding. It’s all part of the learning curve. You’ll grow better at fixing difficulties if you’re clever about it while you’re doing it.

And…if you haven’t checked any of the aforementioned boxes, you’re undoubtedly thinking about the dreaded’sitcom’ notion. It’s back to square one…

Here’s a short list of firms that solve difficulties to assist you sort things out:

Google – Google organizes the world’s information and makes it available to anybody. At first, Google seemed to be a horrible concept; there were already a number of search engines that performed the same thing. What’s the difference? They performed a much better job.

Tip: Whether you can solve an issue better than your rivals, it doesn’t matter if you have competition in your market. Competitors may, in fact, be beneficial at times. They demonstrate that there is a market. You could have a good concept if you can fit in and provide value that no one else can. 

Citi bike is a bicycle-sharing firm established in New York City that serves the whole city. The goal of Citi Bike was to reduce pollution, road wear, and congestion. It is a sustainable mode of transportation that makes traveling around simpler and more cheap for many New Yorkers without vehicles. Barclays Cycle Hire (affectionately known as Boris Bikes after London Mayor Boris Johnson) is a comparable initiative in the UK that began in 2010 with the goal of making travels from point A to point B quicker. Two brilliant concepts, each with its own set of justifications, that both address issues.

Tip: It’s possible that you and someone else have the same concept, but you solve a different issue. That is a realistic strategy. 

JustEat is a platform that connects consumers with independent takeout food providers. It’s a UK-based firm that has made it simple to search for and order meals from inside the app. Simply input your location and preferred cuisine, and Just Eat will provide you with a selection of restaurants from which you may make an order, complete with menus. There will be no more Googling or making phone calls. Whether you’re in London or Edinburgh, purchasing online is simple. In fact, the business has grown to the point that it currently operates in 13 nations. Simply said, JustEat made ordering takeout easier.

Tip: Your solution doesn’t have to be “out of this world.” You don’t need to come up with a whole new concept to assist college students communicate (Facebook), you simply need to discover the simplest answer to a problem. As you contemplate this, recall the Minimum Viable Product. 

SolarCity was created in 2006 with the goal of using sustainable solar energy to power homes. This organization not only solves difficulties in the future when nonrenewable resources become scarce, but it also makes power more reasonable now by offering fixed rates. All you need now is a sturdy roof!

Tip: Improve your ability to predict future issues. Begin with your most valuable player. It must have a present, relevant market, but you may start thinking about how you’ll modify it now. When the future ‘arrives,’ you’ll have a competitive edge. 

Uber is a ridesharing app that links customers with drivers of for-hire automobiles. Uber addresses a number of issues: it’s quick owing to a large pool of registered drivers, easy because you can request a pick-up and pay for your trip all from the same phone app, and economical since you can share your fare with another passenger traveling in the same direction.

Tip: You may use other people’s ideas if you want to. So, a new ridesharing firm has arrived in town. Rather of competing, why don’t you follow Uber’s lead and find a method to ‘own’ the parking lot?

GoPro – makes it simple to film almost anything. A GoPro camera is the answer that most sports fans will select for shooting film, whether they’re refilling a lake with fish, completing a space jump, or racing a trials bike over life-size playing cards and pencils. It’s almost unbreakable and can be customized to fit any situation. There will be no more broken cameras. There will be no more missed chances!

Thinking beyond the box is a good idea. Perhaps GoPro would not have stuck out as much if they had just developed cameras with Geeks in mind and marketed themselves in this manner. They have rivals, but none of them have nailed the nail on the head when it comes to branding. Your ‘brand’ is also an important factor in making an otherwise unoriginal enterprise unique. 

Quorn is a mycoprotein derived from a fungus that is used to make their meat-free ‘meat products.’ It is promoted to the health-conscious as a meat replacement for vegetarians and as a healthier alternative to meat for the health-conscious, thereby addressing concerns for two separate markets.

You’ve chosen a target market, which is a good start. Great. Is there anybody else who could like your suggestion? Examine a variety of industries. Inquire of others. You could come up with a better suggestion!

LivePlan – And…could mentioning our own product, LivePlan, possibly hurt? Nope. No, I don’t believe so. If it wasn’t a product I find really valuable, I wouldn’t discuss it here. As I’ve spent the past several months immersed in all things ‘business,’ I’ve realized the importance of having a business strategy. Not only does the LivePlan program encourage you to consider your market and company structure, but it also allows you to evaluate your assumptions in the financial part. This is useful if you’re trying out fresh ideas or want to put an idea to the test before bringing it to market. Anyone wishing to build a business plan will find this to be the most user-friendly software available. We’re also in the midst of transforming it into something even better. You’ll want to keep an eye on this area whether you’re thinking about launching a company or if you already have one.

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