The Startup Tribe – Lay The Foundations
Theme #1 – Startup Paths
What is the right business for me to start?
In this phase of your Startup Journey you will:
Assess your entrepreneurial motivations and set clear intentions for this journey.
Get honest with yourself about what type of business you are best positioned to start.
Examine different startup journeys and study different types of businesses.
Understand the difference between an entrepreneurial project and a business (and focus on the former).
There is no one way to build a business. If you behave as if there is, you will put a huge amount of pressure on yourself. There are simply good and less businesses for you to start. The clearer you are about the most viable businesses for you, the more you will save yourself difficulty further down the line. Define success for yourself – be strong because this is hard in a world that is constantly trying to define it for you.
You’ll often hear entrepreneurs say “If I had known how hard it was going to be when I started, I wouldn’t have started.” But you also hear those same people admit, whether or not they succeeded, that they wouldn’t change the experience for anything. Why is the entrepreneurial journey so intense and why would you want to undertake it? The clearer you can get on your motivations, the more you can make decisions based on what you want to get out of the ride.
Run towards something
You want to run towards something you care about rather than away from something you don’t care about (i.e. a soul-sucking job, an evil boss, etc). So many of us fall into the trap of projecting all of our hopes and dreams into our startup and act as if everything we want and need in our lives is going to be found in this entity that we are building. There are many good reasons for starting a business, but escaping a negative current reality shouldn’t be the only one…
Clarify your objectives
There are a few obvious reasons for wanting to start a business and most of us share the main ones. However, knowing which are your key drivers up front will really influence your decision-making process down the line. Are you in this for 1) Money / Security? 2) Purpose / Passion? 3) Independence / Autonomy? 4) Impact / Change? 5) Skills / Challenge? 6) Personal Growth? Can you get honest with yourself on which matter most to you?
Ensure you’re up for the ride
Starting a business is hard. Really hard. The main reason for this is that you’re trying to create something that doesn’t exist and see it impact the world in a positive way. This is also why it is so fulfilling. The more you can be clear on the sacrifices you’ll make and the challenges you’ll encounter on this journey, the more you’ll know what you’re letting yourself in for and be able to prepare yourself.
Avoid the trap of never starting
The fear of spending +5 years and lots of money building something that doesn’t work is the main reason most people don’t start. A few things to bear in mind: 1) it has never been cheaper to get something started, 2) you don’t have to make a five-year commitment in order to begin experimenting with ideas and projects, 3) the only way to really know if something might work is to move from thinking to doing.
Define success for yourself
The more you look into startups, the more you’ll feel the pressure to build the next runaway success. In today’s hyper-connected it is a fight to make your definition of success your own. Success for you might be building a £10m business but equally it could be starting a venture that catalyses your career change into a new job by helping you acquire new skills or launching a side-project that brings you some extra income.
Embrace unpredictable outcomes
Your motivations, your definition of success, and the opportunities that you can take advantage of will all change as you start turning your ideas into realities. Successful entrepreneurs accept uncertainty, act on what information they have access to today and trust their ability to create whilst reacting to unfolding events. Creating in the unknown is both the beauty and the challenge of the entrepreneurial journey.
Invest in your future self
The decisions you take today will impact who you become over the coming years. You are not the person you are going to be in 5 years time. Entrepreneurs don’t wake up one day and decide to be entrepreneurs, they decide to start things and, become entrepreneurs through repeated action and learning. Don’t beat yourself up for not being an entrepreneur today, the only way to become one is to keep taking one step after another along this path.
Choose the right founding story for you
There is no one way to leave employment and start a business. Some people go all-in, quit their jobs, and live off savings or raise early-stage investment to keep them going whilst they build. Others start their business from the safety of their jobs and work evenings and weekends until they have reached certain key milestones. And others still go part-time, take a sabbatical or do freelance work to stay afloat whilst building. What works is what works for you.
Clarify what a startup really is
By far and away the most helpful definition of a startup is this one by Steve Blank: a startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Startups are NOT small versions of big companies. They are a collection of people united by a clear problem and a set of shared assumptions and a vision for how they can profitably build a solution. All of your ideas are hypotheses until reality proves them right / wrong.
Distinguish between projects and businesses
Startups can take years to turn into businesses. However, successful startup projects can be launched in a weekend. You will feel the pressure to build a business and you will beat yourself up that your idea doesn’t look anything like one. Relax about building a business and focus on launching a successful startup project. If version 1 is successful you may decide to undertake the hard work of turning it into a business. But first, focus on the project.
Avoid the job trap
At the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey you may feel like you have 10 jobs that you have to do at the same time – all of which are poorly paid (or not paid at all!) and none of which you can delegate. You can’t go on holiday and you can’t switch off. Whether or not you want to be at the helm forever, in order to avoid creating a job that you can’t escape from, you want to be building towards a business that can operate without you. Design for this from the off.
Start the right idea for you
Good ideas are worthless. But good ideas, executed excellently can be extremely valuable. In order to turn the idea for Facebook or Google or Airbnb or Uber into a successful reality you need to have access to the right skills, experiences, capital and networks. There is a massive difference between having a good idea and being the right person to turn a good idea into a successful reality. Good ideas are person-specific and context-specific.
Start where you are
The test for a good startup idea for you is going to be determined by Who You Are (location, passions, interests, resources), What You Know (existing skills, industry knowledge, macro/micro understanding of trends or concepts) and Who You Know (strong relationships, membership of communities, access to networks). Start where you are today and you will imagine possibilities that are achievable for who you are and where you are in your life today.
Read more about generating startup ideas in Theme #3 – Idea Generation…
- Effectuation – A thinking framework that serves entrepreneurs in starting businesses, providing a way to control a future that is inherently unpredictable.
- Bird-in-hand – The first principle of Effectuation (also known as “start with your means”). Ask yourself: Who are you, what do you know, and whom do you know? Then, imagine possibilities that originate from your means.
- The E-Myth – This is quite a seminal book on entrepreneurship that argues that most entrepreneurs work in their businesses rather than on them and – through doing so – create jobs for themselves that they can’t escape from.