Context: I've been reading up on lean startups for a year and have been flailing unsuccessfully trying to launch one. It's been a tough go, but I have gained a lot of validated learning through my small experiments.
I've created many iterations of business model canvases (lean canvas variation) and update my hypotheses for each section of the canvas as I gain validated learning, I've done some customer development by talking to my target segment about my hypotheses on their problems, I've run small ad campaigns to drive people to landing pages to collect email addresses, and I've read numerous academic reports about my problem space that validate that the problem is real and currently unsolved.
In my opinion, I think I have validated the target customer segment and their problem (the academic reports, customer development, email collections, and business model canvas all confirm my hypotheses). I also have a prototype of a solution that is unique to the market. I am the product owner, and I have a developer, a designer, and a writer on board to help.
From here, I am not quite sure how to proceed. Here's how I think I should proceed: Based on the validated learning I've acquired up to this point, refine the prototype into a minimum viable product, start content marketing by a landing page, blogging, social media, and forum participation, and consider small, targeted ad campaigns to drive traffic. The product incentivizes inviting your friends and family to use it, so there is some viral aspect built in. For this product, user-generated content is important so I was planning to make the base product free with ads, but have premium accounts that are monthly subscriptions.
I feel that this product is a product whose time has come. There's a lot of activity in this niche, but this particular product is unique and provides value that the pseudo-competitors in the space lack. How do I go from my business model canvas and the accompanying product prototype to market, and eventually to product-market fit? We are bootstrappers and want to avoid giving away company equity for funding.
Congratulations on your discipline and patience during customer development. It seems you've learned enough to build a good MVP.
Some of the next steps you should consider:
The indicator of reaching product-market fit is either the typical 40% who "can't live without the product" or a combination of factors: new sign-ups > churn, high retention, and viral sign-ups > paid sign-ups.
Looking at the question at surface level, the simple answer is get on and do it. You've described a credible process to get to this point, and the next steps make great sense.
But that raises another question. Why are you hesitating? It's possible that you're in the position that up to now, you've been doing everything by the book. So you've built your confidence in the methodology, alongside refining the proposition to maximize the opportunity. But from now on, you're going to be on the field, and the book may not help.
If that describes you, what you need is one or maybe two mentors - people who have been there themselves, who will share the journey with you, and who will keep the level of objectivity and detachment you've had up to now but will inevitably tend lose as you execute. So (i) reach out to people in your network you respect, (ii) have a clear ask (e.g. half an hour over coffee, once a month), (iii) decide in advance how you will decide when/whether to formalize that connection.