By FAR, the greatest mistake that startup founders make is that they start with the wrong things. They tend to have an assumption or desire about how to solve a problem and they go. You read that “startup” book that tells all you need to know… you went to a meetup or networking event that talked about what it takes… you’re ready!
How do you actually start, with no money, so that you know you aren’t wasting your time? Here’s what no one will tell you: You don’t start selling and don’t just start coding.
If you are to actually have what you might consider a successful venture, a business, it starts there – in determining that you actually have a business. Let me throw for you a loop though… don’t yet worry about an LLC, accounting, patents, a website, nor coding if you’re diving into an web based venture – you don’t yet have anything! Let’s start at the very beginning: Do you know the market intimately?
Competitors, history, potential partners, costs, revenue models, what potential customers think they want – and what they might actually want? It doesn’t matter that you think you know, do you?
That’s your job. That’s the half of a business that creates the value. So let’s start, right now, with 4 simple things:
ONE: Get a notebook. Head to your favorite coffee shop and start ONE of 500, sit down, face-to-face, one-on-one interviews to figure out what not to do and to build a foundation of people to whom to turn with the initial solution. Yes, FIVE HUNDRED. Start spending your days caffeinated – you’re going to need it anyway.
TWO: Start marketing, constantly. Not promotion! We don’t have anything to promote yet. Start Marketing – The work of knowing and developing the market.
This is not the same as step #1, talking to potential customers, nor is it promotion. This is market research, competitive analysis, studying from where you might get funding, learning how such things exit, investigating what works and what doesn’t, etc. We do this to such a great degree as this is how we figure out what to do
insider secret: because customers are usually wrong – you do the interviews to figure out what NOT to do and you do marketing to figure out what TO do
THREE: Establish some market share by building out some industry assets: a Facebook group, a twitter, a mailing list, a newsletter… build some assets that are NOT consistent with your company name. We’re not yet building a brand as we don’t have that yet either – build some potential market share through industry related assets from where you’ll find an audience, fans, and early customers.
FOUR: Build a team. No startup in the history of startups is the success of one person. No investor in the history of investors funds one person.
Figure out your gaps and fill them with experience in a team that can succeed. Build a relevant, committed, capable team and you can accomplish anything: startups really only fail when the team quits.
From here, you know what NOT to do, you have a plan and resources with which to set out, and you have an audience in demand of what you might do.
Everything from this point forward comes from your roadmap. None of the books, guides, advisors, or programs you might join can tell you what you should actually do next as everything is dependent upon what you learn from those first four steps.
I’m a fan of some incubators as granted, still, this is hard work; incredibly hard work that will leave you isolated, frustrated, and lacking answers where you might think some should exist. Don’t do this alone and keep building that team. Your next step might be one of these program, a few of my favorites (and where you’ll find me): Founder Institute, Galvanize, Impact Hub, DivInc, Bunker Labs, Y Combinator, and 500 Startups.
Alright, stop reading! Go get that cup of coffee