Even if you’re sitting on a fantastic idea for a new business, you know you’ve got a long, tough road to travel before you see success. Planning for the worst and hoping for the best is still the best way to plan. To that end, you have to understand what challenges your young company is going to face and be well prepared to face them.
The first step is to understand what you’re getting yourself into and how your offering fits into the market. Then you can start thinking about stock options, venture capitalists, and retiring to the South of France – which is lovely this time of year.
Here are five must-dos for your budding startup pre-launch.
1. Talk to Someone Besides Your Roommate
Yes, an app that allows you to time the delivery of pizza and beer so that they coincide, arriving both piping hot and ice cold sounds great to Dave. But Dave is not a focus group. In fact Dave may be more concerned with the temperature of his delivered beer than the average person. He’s certainly more into neoclassical poetry than anyone else you know. Which is why you need to ask more people than Dave.
Before you spend a thousand hours coding this thing, reach out to the people you think would love your app. If they do in fact love the idea, press ahead. If they don’t love it, ask them what they would love. And then see if someone else might love what you were thinking about building. You’re allowed to be wrong about your product or your target demographic, as long as you’re willing to adjust your plan.
2. Build a Talent Network
The world of the entrepreneur is filled with networking events. You shake hands, talk about your idea in vague terms, and then exchange clever business cards, must-do 2.5. By the way, get clever business cards.
When you get back to the office, you’ll find that you’ve got a pocketful of excellent contacts for your product or service once it’s off and running. What you need right now, though, is a coder who knows Rails or an electrical engineer – is Dave still around? – who can build your minimum viable product. Speaking of which.
Finding potential builders is easy, these days. Check out:
- Local entrepreneur meet-ups
- Maker meet-ups, often held at your local library
- Any talk on bitcoin, Linux, marketing, or sales
- Your local university, especially STEM and business majors
3. Know What You’re Making
I’m a firm believer in failing fast, iterating, and refining the process. What I’m not a fan of is doing it indefinitely or without a clear outcome in mind. The first step to building a successful final product is to understand what your minimum viable product looks like.
Figure out the five or ten features that you have to have, then make that thing. Give it away, sell it, lend it, and see how long it takes to break. Now you’re on the road to a nicely polished, saleable product that some lucky venture capitalist is going to make a billion dollars off of. Without a first step in mind, you’re never going to make it to that finish line.
4. Have a Plan F
If it turns out that your great idea isn’t a good fit for anyone or that it costs $1,000 more than you expected to make that watch or that there’s already a flood of competition in your consulting firm’s vertical, you’re going to have to make a hard choice. It’s the sinking gambler’s recognition that the next withdrawal from the ATM puts them behind on rent. It’s failure.
Everyone has a limit and, before you’re in over your head, you need to know what your limit is. Are you willing to lose your car? Go into thousands of dollars in credit card debt? Go bankrupt? Determining your risk tolerance before things go sour is incredibly important. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to make rash choices.
5. Organize Your Desk
Finally, before you get stuck into the daily work of making your company a success, get your own house in order. Line up the business software that you’re going to need, figure out which company is going to spot you that initial loan, and sharpen up your pencils.
This seems like a very minor point, but an organized back office, even if that’s just you, means that you’ll be able to spend less time figuring out how to categorize the Danish you ate with potential clients and more time building your business.
My short list of must-haves:
- Accounting software and accountant
- A website that doesn’t look like something your Aunt Frida made
- Customer relationship management software
- Those snazzy business cards
- A communication solution, a la Slack or Google Hangouts
Find a real friend before you dive in. At some point, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to cost you time, money, and relationships, and it’s going to be very easy to fall into depression. Find someone, or multiple someones, who will be your cheerleader, even when you’re clearly the losing team.
Support is underrated, but you’re not going to build an empire without someone to turn to in times of emotional need. The web has made finding like-minded folks a lot easier than it was back when Jobs and Gates were kicking around in garages, take advantage of that.
If you want to be that unicorn, find a way to give yourself the best platform possible. Dig into the nitty-gritty of building a successful business and make your plan worth more than the paper it’s scribbled on. Good luck.