The first two parts of this series had a bit of a negative tone, but that was done on purpose. Most people paint a rosy picture of startup life when the reality is actually much different. If you can make it through those and still want to form a startup, then this last part will give you some hope. Let’s hit the Do’s.
- Get the right validation
- Find a co-founder
- Start small
- Have patience
- Take the first step
Get the right validation
When seeking out advice/validation of your idea, 90% of people will usually say it’s a great idea. That’s what friends are for. Even if you go to your prospective customers and drive the discussion, everybody will still “want” everything but rarely will that be something they need, or more importantly actually pay for. Don’t fall into the trap of getting your confidence boosted by “yes” people. Seek out the people who are doubtful of the idea and listen. Don’t try to convert them. Don’t try to sell them. Just listen and ask questions. Try to understand their concerns so you can eventually counter them. Walk away and iterate and come back to them. Keep these people on your frequent contact list. Find the holes as early as you can . Keep in mind a couple of suggestions as you go thru this:
- Pitch your idea as already complete. Ask if they will sign a check as a development partner or pay today for use of your service. You start getting real world answers when you ask people to sign a check.
- Connect with people you don’t get along with. No, seriously. They may be haters but they will give you the most negative response and you might be surprised at how valid it will be.
Overall remember that you can’t please everyone and there will be a percentage that will always say no. That is expected and should not discourage you from moving forward. Don’t look at it as criticism so much as the data points you need to strengthen your idea.
Find a co-founder
A startup is an emotional roller coaster. You will feel your highest high and your lowest low all in the same day. Every single day for years. Sound tiring? Hell yes it is. I envy the people that can truly separate out emotion from business, but as a startup founder that is simply not an option. Welcome to the ride. This is why you need a good co-founder, aka a person who can pull you up when you’re down and vice versa. A balance is critical because how you handle the emotions will be how your company handles it. Find a co-founder that makes up your weaknesses — the yin to your yang. Most people don’t go beyond the business compatibility — (I’m sales/He is tech). Match on personality is even more important. If you’re an excitable/aggressive personality, then you need a steady eddy. Trust me, you don’t want to jump on this ride alone.
The hot thing to do today is to “disrupt” everything. Everyone must have a plan to take over the world. Yet, most companies who actually are disrupters rarely started that way. Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Salesforce all started with simple, clear and initially small value props. Over time they grew into the disrupters that they are now. It’s important that you have a vision for how you want to affect change, but first you need to focus on a small value prop that can get you off the starting blocks.
One of my favorite examples of this is Pindrop. They initially started due to their founder’s (Vijay) paper from Gatech on how to use the background noise of telephone conversations to fingerprint carriers. It was very cool tech that was looking for a problem to solve. This was at a time when voice was not “cool”. He decided to target call centers at banks for fraud usage. Raising their angel & A round was fraught with doubts about how big the market was. Vijay ended up right, though. Banks loved the solution and started buying it in big ways. It was an untapped market that although small they dominated. Fast forward to today and they are now taking over adjacent markets with huge revenue and big players invested such as Marc Andreessen & John Chambers. Now they are called “disrupters”.
Starting a company always takes longer than you expect. Whatever you estimate for time — double it. Seriously. In fact, you should even double again on top of that. This was the hardest thing for me to conquer as it is one of my biggest weaknesses. Patience is tough, even more so when you feel the pressure of possible competition and everyone around you is running 100mph. The best advice I can give you is to slow down! It’s ok, as we discussed in Part 1 — you don’t have to be first. Being patient does not mean you are not aggressive. Keep this in mind when raising capital or talking with potential customers. Set expectations low, and then over deliver.
Take the first step
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”
I see so many would be entrepreneurs getting stuck in analysis paralysis. They read every book, attend every webinar, listen to every podcast and attend entrepreneur events. Although I commend them for the investment, many never make it out of that loop. Startups are started when you get your butt out of the chair and start executing. Everyone has a multi-million dollar idea — it’s who executes and who just thinks about it that makes the difference. Here are a couple tips to get going.
- Build a deck. I don’t mean just throw your thoughts on a powerpoint, I mean build. Truly spend time on it. I will usually spend months on a deck going from 40 slides to 8. Learn how to tell your story. Start walking people thru the deck, learn the friction points, and find the holes in your logic. It’s amazing how much clarity doing this will bring.
- Get a domain and build out a company website. There are a ton of resources that can help you do this with no technical skills. Make it professional.
- Start the company legally. There are a lot of places to help you in this process. Gone are the days where you need to pay a lot of money to lawyers (at least at this stage — you will have to do that later)
This makes things real. Cements the fact that you are committed and moving forward. Finally, remember that most successful founders had no idea about what they were doing when they started. They just started.