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Do You Know Why Most Sri Lankan Startups Fail?

Do you know why most Sri Lankan startups fail?

According to research done by CB Insights, the number 1 reason for a startup to fail is because there is no market need for it. This essentially means that these startups tried to solve problems that either nobody had or not enough people had to turn it into a sustainable business.

Sri Lankan Startups Fail

My belief is that these startups didn’t validate their assumptions on what they were trying to solve for their customers, got ahead of themselves and lead them to their untimely death.

So, what’s the solution? Market validation

Market validation is the method of learning whether your product is of benefit to a given target market. The key thing to know here is that it has to be done before making a significant investment in your product.

There are many methods of doing market validation, I’m here to talk about the most effective one.

Say Ayubowan to the Design Sprint

Sri Lankan Startups Fail

A design sprint is a process that was invented by Jake Knapp and Google Ventures used to validate ideas and solve big challenges through design, rapid prototyping and user testing in only 5 days.

In my opinion, it’s the best thing that’s happened since roast paan, pol sambol and parripu on a Sunday morning.

Why? Because it’s a low risk and high reward process that is structured and super effective approach to creative thinking and problem-solving in comparison to traditional brainstorming methodologies.

It has been widely adopted by The New York Times, Slack, Medium, IDEO, Lufthansa, eBay, Airbnb and Google Ventures for their own startup portfolio. (There are more companies that use it, I’ve only listed a few).

Getting ready for a Design Sprint

The 5 day-sprint can be difficult. However, it is also incredibly fun and insightful as long as you do it properly.

There are some things you need to do in order to ensure that the process goes smoothly:

The Pre-Sprint Work

Recruit the team

The Design Sprint is run by a facilitator. The facilitator’s job is to clarify the assumption that needs to be validated and the problem that needs solving. He also has to recruit the rest of the team who will be a part of the Design Sprint.

The ideal size for a sprint team is usually 5–7 people from diverse backgrounds. It’s important that the people who are going to be taking part come from a diverse skill set and domain experience to approach the problem from a broad perspective.

Sri Lankan Startups Fail

After the team has been recruited, you need to choose a decider, this is the person who will make the final call on all the decisions that need to be made during the 5 days. The decider is usually the CEO/Product Manager/Founder of the team. A good way to select the decider is to identify someone whose decisions are trusted by the rest of the team.

When the decider has been chosen, you need to now get the sprint supplies sorted. This includes the Sprint war room which is a room that the Sprint team can work out of. It should also be isolated from any sort of interruption that may occur to keep the team focused.

These are the rest of the supplies you’ll need:

(Side note this depends on the size of the team, I’m going to assume there are 7 people.)

  1. A Big Whiteboard
  2. 7 Black Platignum Markers
  3. 2 Scissors
  4. 1 Big Roll of Masking Tape
  5. 1 Multi-coloured Post It Pack
  6. 7 Yellow 3×5 Rectangular Post It Pads
  7. 100 Sheets of A4 Paper
  8. 100 Small Dot Stickers (1/4 Inch) in Red or Orange
  9. 50 Large Dot Stickers (3/4 Inch) in Green
  10. Healthy Snacks
  11. 14 Butcher Paper, also known as demy paper in Lanka.

All these items are available at Premium Stationery in Liberty Plaza Colpetty (not snacks of course!).

Now, that you have the facilitator, the Sprint team, the decider, a war room and the supplies. We can jump into the days.

During the Sprint

There are detailed exercises during the week to get to your end goal, I will be outlining what happens in each day as a summary (taken directly from gv.com/sprint), for all the individual exercises refer to the further reading section at the end of the article.

Monday

Monday’s structured discussions create a path for the sprint week. In the morning, you’ll start at the end and agree to a long-term goal. Next, you’ll make a map of the challenge. In the afternoon, you’ll ask the experts of your team to share what they know. Finally, you’ll pick a target: an ambitious but manageable piece of the problem that you can solve in one week.

Tuesday

Sri Lankan Startups Fail

After a full day of understanding the problem and choosing a target for your sprint, on Tuesday, you get to focus on solutions. The day starts with inspiration: a review of existing ideas to remix and improve. Then, in the afternoon, each person will sketch, following a four-step process that emphasizes critical thinking over artistry. You’ll also begin planning Friday’s customer test by recruiting customers that fit your target market’s profile.

Wednesday

Sri Lankan Startups Fail

By Wednesday morning, you and your team will have a stack of solutions. That’s great, but it’s also a problem. You can’t prototype and test them all — you need one solid plan. In the morning, you’ll critique each solution, and decide which ones have the best chance of achieving your long-term goal. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll take the winning scenes from your sketches and weave them into a storyboard: a step-by-step plan for your prototype.

Thursday

Sri Lankan Startups Fail

On Wednesday, you and your team created a storyboard. On Thursday, you’ll adopt a “fake it” philosophy to turn that storyboard into a  .

  • The prototype could be a digital product built with a prototyping tool such as Figma, Sketch or Invision.
  • It could be a physical product built with either a 3D printer of the prototype or physical materials.
  • Even a service could be prototyped where you mockup an interaction with the customer using a script.
  • For case studies on different Design Sprints and prototypes visit https://sprintstories.com/

A realistic façade is all you need to test with customers, and here’s the best part: by focusing on the customer-facing surface of your product or service, you can finish your prototype in just one day. On Thursday, you’ll also make sure everything is ready for Friday’s test by confirming the schedule, reviewing the prototype, and writing an interview script.

Friday

Your sprint began with a big challenge, an excellent team — and not much else. By Friday, you’ve created promising solutions, chosen the best, and built a realistic prototype. That alone would make for an impressively productive week. But you’ll take it one step further as you interview customers and learn by watching them react to your prototype. This test makes the entire sprint worthwhile: At the end of the day, you’ll know how far you have to go, and you’ll know just what to do next.

What happens after the Design Sprint?

After you’ve completed the 5 Day Design Sprint, it’s important to know that you won’t have a complete product, you’ve only validated your product or concept with your target market. You’ll have a lot of insights from the user tests and you’ll have to decide what to do next.

I’d recommend conducting a follow-up sprint to really hone down on the product.

Once you do this, in the user tests in the follow-up sprint will include reactions from your customers that goes like this:

‘Wow’,

‘Is this app out right now? Can I download it?’,

‘I’d be really disappointed if this didn’t come out now that I’ve seen it’.,

‘When can I try this out?’

Until you get reactions such as these, DON’T BUILD THE PRODUCT. If there’s a mediocre reaction from the people in your target market, it means you haven’t built something that’ll change their behaviour. It’ll kill your business in the long run. Keep experimenting until you get those reactions.

Validation is hard — building a real product is harder without it.

The beginning of any project or start-up idea should start with validating it first. It sets the stage for your entire entrepreneurship journey.

It may seem like a lot to do a Design Sprint but if you’re serious about building a business ask yourself these questions: What’s the cost if you don’t have a target market fit? Or if your product is less successful than it could be? Or if you just build the wrong thing?

By running a Design Sprint you get a lot of clarity into who your customers are, what problems you’re solving and what are the key features in your product that’ll really delight your customers. All to do with validating your idea.


Shavin Peiris is the Co-Founder of Very Bad Wizards, a product and service design agency that helps challenger companies build better products and services faster. By bridging the gap between what consumers want and what companies are offering, using the Design Sprint 2.0 Methodology.

If you’re interested in running a Design Sprint or want their help in coaching your team to run Design Sprints contact Shavin at shavin@verybadwizards.io

Further Reading

  1. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days Book (buy it in Sri Lanka from Jumpbooks.lk)
  2. https://www.gv.com/sprint/
  3. https://sprintstories.com/

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Shavin Peiries

Shavin Peiris is the Co-Founder of Very Bad Wizards, a product and service design agency that helps challenger companies build better products and services faster. By bridging the gap between what consumers want and what companies are offering, using the Design Sprint 2.0 Methodology.

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