Houston voices

3 things Houston entrepreneurs need to keep in mind to run a lean startup and reduce risk

Lean methodology aims to help startups reduce risk and helps entrepreneurs make better, more efficient decisions. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

There are few things riskier than launching a new business. You could run through a mine field and have a better chance at living than launching a successful, long-lasting business. In fact, the Harvard Business School even reported that three out of every four startups fail. Fortunately, a new process has come to light that was designed precisely to reduce the risk of starting a business. Lean startups champion trial and error over detailed planning. Customer feedback over "gut feeling." Cyclic processes of design over traditional development.

Some lean startup ideas have already gone mainstream because they've proven to be so effective. The principles of "minimum viable product" and "startup pivot" have become so engrained in modern business that even university business colleges have begun to teach them.

There are three key aspects of the lean methodology.

Educated guesses

Number one: Instead of spending a year conducting research and planning long-term, lean startup entrepreneurs go with the idea that all they have on the first day is a bunch of unproven ideas. Guesses, really. These entrepreneurs forego the traditional business plan and opt instead to give a Cliff Notes version of their big idea using a template dubbed "business model canvas." It's pretty much a diagram that shows how a business generates value not just for its consumers, but for itself.

Field work

Number two: Lean startups use an "out and about" method for testing their ideas. It's a kind of customer development. They go "out and about" and basically interview potential customers, interested people, and people on the fence about all aspects of their business. How's our pricing compared to others you've seen? Do you like our product features? What do you think of our strategy? Lean startup entrepreneurs amend their ideas based on the feedback they get from customers. That's the beauty of the lean method: it's based on your willingness to change directions based on new information. Sound familiar? Well, it should. I just described pivoting. A lean startup concept now adopted by major corporations.

Agility means stability not fragility

Number three: The software industry bore a method called agile development. Agile development cuts down on wasted time because it emphasizes the ability and willingness to change directions and adapt fast. That's what agile means. To move quickly. There's a company named RoofProtect Pro that created a chemical they thought would appeal to homeowners looking to reduce shingle rot. Turns out there wasn't really a demand for reducing shingle rot. It wasn't as big a deal as the RoofProtect Pro founders had hypothesized. However, after speaking with business owners they discovered there was a demand for something to help reduce rust and deterioration of signage. RoofProtect Pro went back to the drawing board to build and test a prototype for a chemical that reduces rust and staining on different material like concrete and metal. A year later RoofProtect Pro became SurfaceSustain and obtained over $2 million in venture capital funding.

Now that's agility!

It's no surprise, then, that in the high-stakes world of business, a methodology designed specifically to reduce risk would prove successful. Lean methods don't guarantee success, of course, but the principles it holds dear do help strip away a lot of wasted time and energy and have proven to be highly efficient. Now, if there's an antidote to riskiness, it's got to be efficiency. Efficiency tightens a business to bare bones so there is little room for big risks to hurt your venture.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Choosing the right city in which to launch your startup can make or break your company. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Choosing the best city for your startup can mean the difference between success and closing up shop prematurely. It's important to think outside your home city for a startup launch because your home city may not have the ecosystem set up for your particular startup.

If you give in to your emotions; staying in your hometown because it's, well, your hometown, you risk preventing your company from launching in a city more conducive to its growth.

Here are three keys to making sure you choose the right city for your startup.

A city's ecosystem

Few things are more valuable to a new company than a web of like-minded companies, investors, social groups and connections. You want a city that uses its resources to grow and maintain its startups. Whether it be accelerators or pitching events or entrepreneur conferences, the city you choose needs to be active in the startup community. Establishing your startup in a city with a weak ecosystem will halt the growth of your company because it'll be that much harder to boost your company without a city's support.

A city's social network

A city with a robust social circle of like-minded entrepreneurs is a city that is doing something right for startups. First of all, if the city is rich in like-minded entrepreneurs, then that means they are living there. So there has to be a reason for that: the city is startup-friendly. Second, a city with a strong social sphere of startups means you have more opportunities to make connections and network. You can meet with other business owners to discuss issues important to your companies and even learn new things from each other. What's more is you have a chance to work with other companies to help each other grow. The city of New Orleans has Krewe de Nieux, for example. This social group is a resource for over forty technology startups in the city.

A chance to give back

Opportunities to give back. The best city for your startup will have plenty of opportunities to give back. For example, giving high school students real-life work experience to expand their knowledge and prepare them for a career in the field. A city with a plethora of opportunities like charities, youth groups, internships and career and business organizations allows startups to barter: we will give you experience and you can help us get work done. You help each other grow. In doing so, you blossom the city's startup community as a whole.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.