In March 2023 I started considering creating a tool to help physical businesses like breweries with managing the creation and rollout of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). To kick things off I put together a quick survey to help me understand how they are currently managing SOPs.
Once the survey is complete I will share the results here, however for now I thought readers of this blog might be interested in my thinking behind the whole thing and how I’m going about it.
Assumptions and hunches
Any time you launch a new business you need to be careful not to make too many assumptions. You have to test your assumptions regularly with real evidence or you’ll just end up chasing nothing for months or years – trust me I’ve done it many times!
So before I drafted the survey I wrote down what the key assumptions were that I am making and how can I best test those things. I also wrote down what some of my hunches were so that when I see the data come in, I can get some sort of a feel for how in touch I am with the potential customers for this.
These are the assumptions I came up with. If all of these things are true, I could have a potential business opportunity on my hands.
- SOPs are important to a decent amount of breweries.
- SOPs are a big enough problem for brewers that they will pay for a solution.
- The current tools on the market aren’t adequately solving the problems for breweries.
- Using phones for SOP completion will massively increase completion rates (with push notifications, easy swiping, available on the job, perhaps at a certain time or in a certain location). There’s so much friction in the model of emailing people a link to a website that you have to log into when most frontline workers don’t use computers or email when they are at work but they all have phones.
- I am able to get the attention of enough breweries to get paid customers without spending money.
It’s important to point out that I don’t expect to be able to validate these things fully by just doing a survey. However I do think I could potentially invalidate them. That is to say just because someone says in a survey that this is an important issue for them, it doesn’t mean that they will sign up and pay for my product. However if I find that breweries are universally not doing SOPs at all, then I think that would be a decent sign that this is not worth working on.
Note I also have other assumptions about building the product itself, mainly around my ability to get it built quickly and cheaply which will be critical to pulling this off. I’ll write about this more in future posts.
I also wrote down some hunches which I’ll re-visit when I get the data back to see how in touch I am with potential customers for the app.
- SOPs won’t be super important to smaller customers like brewpubs but will be seen as important to production breweries (good news if true because those are the customers we want because they are more likely to be able to pay).
- I think people care about SOPs for 2 main reasons, Safety / Compliance and Consistency. If this is true, a solution that increases completion will be well received.
- People might have played a bit with note taking apps for SOPs but my hunch is generally people don’t use phones for them because there are no good mobile-first solutions.
- This is the big one. I suspect there is a bit of tension in creating and completing SOPs because it’s seen as something pushed down by managers because they are created on computers by people who have computers at work. One major benefit of doing it as a phone solution is it would make it a lot easier to change this model. All frontline staff have phones, they could create the SOPs and managers could edit / sign off on them. This could be a gamechanger in getting people to buy into them and a big point of difference.
Survey goals – 60 completions
First I came up with a simple goal, 60 survey completions. These numbers are all very much made up but I think it’s important to have goals so I came up with one.
Ultimately the goal is to build a product that people want and get a paid customer. I’m aiming to do that inside 1 month. If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll be aware I wrote a book called The 7 Day Startup.
Before you give me shit and say why not 7 days for this idea, I’ve said from the start that SAAS apps generally aren’t good examples of 7 Day Startup businesses, because it’s almost impossible to build something that solves a big problem in that time. That’s why my 7 Day Startup idea back then was a recurring service business. That said, I am using a lot of the principles I learned and taught in the book as I once again attempt to validate an idea as quickly and cheaply as I believe I can.
The plan is to offer some targeted people access to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and try to get 1 paid customer. If I can covert say 10% of the first initial users to paid users, I would consider that a huge win. So I need at least 10 people testing the product to even be a chance of testing this and landing one paid customer. I’ll aim for 15.
I then assumed half the people who do the survey won’t care about SOPs and half will. Then I assumed out of the half that will, half of those will test out the tool and half won’t.
So working backwards I arrived at 60 completions as a target. 60 people complete the survey, 30 of them care about SOPs, 15 of those sign up to try the software, one ends up as a paying customer when I launch the MVP. To me that would be absolute best case scenario in terms of getting a paid customer that quickly.
For many reasons I don’t really believe there is a black and white distinction between invalidated and validated ideas, however getting a paid customer in the first month would be a huge step in the right direction and would show I’m onto something.
Choosing a survey tool
Now I needed to find a tool to manage the survey. I immediately thought of Type Form because I’ve used it before and the forms are visually very nice. I actually made the mistake of building the whole form on there before realising the free plan only allows for 10 completions. That makes it basically useless so back to the drawing board. I considered Google Forms but I wanted something that looked a bit better. I was also hoping I could get the survey info sent to a CRM so when it came time to rolling out the product, I could set up leads and make an effort to manage the seeking out of potential users. But I also wanted something pretty, so I started looking around for other options.
I had been keen to check out Odoo for a while because I like the sound of what it does (open source and does basically everything a business needs). They’ve also recently opened up on the Gold Coast where I live so I was curious to look at the software anyway and I noticed they had a CRM and a survey tool. Turns out the survey tool is actually quite cool and produces a survey not dissimilar to Type Form but it’s free and not restricted to 10 responses.
Unfortunately my assumption that the Odoo Survey would also automatically send the info through to the Odoo CRM turned out to be false. Kind of silly (isn’t that the whole point of an all in one tool?). But that said, the CRM isn’t a deal breaker, I can always export the list and import into a CRM if I want to go in that direction.
Update: After completing the survey (see the results here), I’m not sure I’d recommend Odoo. There was a few things about it that were very clunky, getting a simple export of the results seems basically impossible and support isn’t easy to find.
Google Forms is another great option if you want a solid free survey tool.
OK so now for what questions to ask.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you might recall me saying many times that Startup Validation is bullshit and the only way to validate an idea is to build it and ask someone to pay for it. This is pretty much the whole idea of The 7 Day Startup. I haven’t changed my mind on that, the survey will not validate the idea. But I am hoping it provides me with some useful information on the following:
- If I’m going to build this I am going to have to know if managing SOPs is a real problem for people. I should be able to get some intel on that from the survey. Not by asking people if it’s a problem but by looking at what they are currently doing. If they are currently doing nothing then it’s not a big problem. If they are using a free tool then it’s a problem but maybe not a huge one (although also possible they just haven’t seen a decent tool to help them), if they are currently paying for a solution then that’s a good sign.
- If I’m going to build another company with no marketing budget (like all of my other companies), I need to know if I can access my ideal customers. I assume I can but you never really know how people view you or how many are following along / how many want to be part of the next project etc. This survey will give me some idea around whether if I work on something here, I will have the ability to reach potential customers without spending too much money. I’ve set myself a goal of 60 completions so if I can hit that, it will give me some confidence that I can still access a decent audience and get the idea rolling.
- I’m personally interested in the information the survey provides having worked on this stuff in my last business and I’m looking for more content ideas, so I’m thinking the survey will also give me some good content for some blog posts and emails (if you’re interested in my emails you can join my list here).
OK with that in mind I’ll break down the questions and why I asked them.
Do you work for a brewery?
I want a targeted audience for this however I wasn’t 100% confident I could get 60 breweries to fill it in (there are only 700 in the whole country after all), so I’m hedging my bets. Since I asked the question I’ll be able to filter responses to breweries only, but if I don’t get enough I will still hopefully have enough data to get some decent info out of it. There’s also the very slim chance that I’ll stumble upon another industry that really wants what I’m building more than breweries do.
I’m considering creating a tool to enable supervisors and staff to easily build and roll out Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on their phones. Think things like processes for dry hopping, forklift pre-start checklists, completing a packaging run, or maybe even outside of production like closing the Taproom or completing a sales call. Do you currently have any SOPs like this at work?
I want people to know I’m not just doing this for fun and I’m ultimately starting the process of marketing the product letting them know it’s coming. But I’m also very interested in knowing if people even have this problem to start with. If they don’t have any SOPs at all, it’s a very good sign that this problem doesn’t exist for them (doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist for anyone but it could potentially mean it doesn’t exist for people who I can access and influence, which wouldn’t be good, although it would be good to know before I go too much further with the idea).
For people who answered no to the question, I don’t continue with the survey for them but I do ask them a final question along the lines of why isn’t it important to them (Odoo supports conditional questions so this is nice and easy).
Phew that would be awkward if you didn’t! Can I ask you, what would you say are the main reasons you have SOPs at work?
This will give me good info later when marketing the product. What do people actually care about? Is it making sure everyone follows the exact same process so they make all products the same? Or is it all about compliance? Whatever the results of this question are will influence features in the product and copy used on the website.
And what would you say were the main challenges of creating, maintaining and rolling out SOPs?
This is going to help me narrow in on some features to consider to help differentiate from what is out there. It will also help me validate some of the hunches I have around the tool especially around phone usage vs computers. Again these things can become features and marketing copy for if and when I launch the product.
I’d love to know what tools are currently being used in your organisation for managing SOPs.
I suspect this will give me very good information. I don’t believe people telling you what they would hypothetically do is reliable info, but finding out what they do already certainly is. I’ve fallen into this trap before where people have said “yeah that sounds cool I’d use that”, however if they aren’t currently using something to solve that problem, it tells them it’s not a huge problem for them.
If I find out through this question that no one is using any software for managing SOPs it wouldn’t be good news. I’m also expecting I will learn about tools that I’m not aware of – remember one of the big assumptions is that people don’t have a great tool for this already.
How often do people at your work use an SOP tool?
This is a good question to ask because it gets us closer to figuring out how big this problem is for people. Again people might say it’s a huge problem, but if they are only using an SOP tool once per month then it’s likely it’s pretty low on their list of priorities.
Who normally creates the SOPs at your work, frontline staff, supervisors or a bit of both?
This question will help me get closer to understanding one of my hunches which is that SOPs are seen as a ‘top down’ thing and there’s little ownership among staff. This is something I want the app to change so it’s important to know if this hunch is right.
Have people at your work ever created SOPS on their phones?
Again I have a few assumptions and hunches around this issue so looking at current behaviour to predict possible future behaviour here. With this one though it is possible the answer is no only because there are no good tools, but let’s see what the results are.
Is there anything you don’t like about your current solution?
This is going to help me really zero in on the features people want and test some of the hunches I have about what people are looking for.
Is your current solution free or paid?
Again don’t ask people if they will pay, look at what they are currently doing. If no one is paying for a solution to this, it’s either because no decent tool exists, or it’s not a big enough problem for people (most likely the latter). Much like some of the other questions, this won’t help validate the product but it could help invalidate it.
If I build a sweet mobile app that enables you to easily create SOPs and have team members complete them would you use it?
I reluctantly asked this question because I feel strongly that what people say is pretty meaningless when it comes to validating startups, and it’s only their actions that matter. However there is one good reason to ask it and that is it sets up a decent list for me to directly target when I launch the app.
The ideal outcome out of all of this is to move out of assumption land as soon as possible. What we want is to have people actively using the app and actively paying for it and then use that information to work out what new features to build. Right now we’re in assumption land which is a dangerous place. We can make a few steps towards the promise land with this survey and by talking to people about what I’m working on, but ultimately we won’t get there until we have paid customers.
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