Tim Aton said "I can accomplish anything." and he did it. What about you?
In my very first article, I urged aspiring entrepreneurs to stop procrastinating and jump right into their startup journey as soon as possible. But how do you get it started? Although there is no one-size-fits-all method, here's mine.
1. Open your mind
This is especially important when you don't have a particular idea you would like to work on yet. When we only focus on creating the next cool product before finding real problems that are worth solving, we tend to end up with "solutions" that don't make any meaningful impact to other people.
So open your mind - focus on understanding how people and things interact with one another. By observing real people instead of tinkering with ideas behind a desk, inspiration will come to you in various forms -- be it from the disgruntled stranger at the mall having a problem with a dead phone battery (possible solution: card-sized mobile battery packs) or a stressed-out colleague at work (possible solution: a game to beat up a virtual avatar of your boss).
Dig deeper, and gather clues from every single event that happens around you. Be truly interested in the lives of others -- this is where you might find your next great idea. Even if you do not find any ideas that you're passionate about, you would have built long-lasting and meaningful relationships.
2. Empathise with customers
After finding an idea, you should share it with everyone. Many people choose to keep ideas to themselves, in fear that they would be "stolen". Truth is, most successful businesses are not based on novel ideas, and almost every idea is a variation of some other existing solution. The top reason for startup success is great execution, and we should be focusing on the mastery of this skill instead.
By speaking to more people, you are able to see how different people react to your idea. Who was able to immediately relate with your idea or connect it with a problem he/she recently faced? These will most likely be your primary customers. Start breaking it down further to get a feel for how big an impact you can make, and always empathise!
Remember, it is not what you think the problem is; it's about understanding the user's experience of the problem. Do not let your interactions end with simple questionnaires because the insights you gain can only go as far as the length of your questions - instead, try observing how people react when they face the problem. The bigger the negative reaction, the more likely they are willing to pay the right solution.
3. Fake a solution
Your next step is to build a landing page (try Strikingly, Launchrock, Shopify and/or QuickMVP) and send out e-mailers, Google Ads or Facebook Ads to get more external validation and bring life to your idea. Imagine how your solution would look like and make quick mockups on your landing page. Many of us call this the Wizard of Oz technique -- no one needs to know that you do not have a functional solution, you just need to know who is interested to pay for it.
Remember to collect their contact details so that you can communicate your progress to them. Communication with alpha customers is crucial at this point. If you do a good job, these alpha customers will turn into your first batch of brand evangelists!
4. Try to kill it
Now that people like what you have faked, it's time for you to try to kill it. This sounds counter-intuitive but it allows us to take a step back and understand the business. By exposing all the critical assumptions of your startup, the gaps in your skills and the flaws in your business model, you are better prepared for the future. Here are some questions you should ask yourself.
- Is the barrier of entry too low?
- Is the cost of running the business way too high?
- Does the revenue model make sense for your or any investor to support the business?
- Do you have the right expertise to grow the business?
- Are there legislative issues you need to deal with when running the business?
- What are the operational requirements for you to get it up and running?
- Is the market large enough?
5. Flip the switch
You made it this far. You are convinced that you are able to take this business to another level even after trying to kill it by exposing all the gaps in your skill sets and your understanding of the business. It's time to flip the switch and turn all those alpha customer signups into actual paying customers. Congratulations, you have founded your startup! Of course, you'll need to continue validating the assumptions around your business - we'll talk more about that another time. For now, grab a cold one and celebrate the birth of your startup.
So a 5 year old just started building games, are you going to stop talking about your ideas and get your hands dirty and walk the talk? While you're thinking about it, check out the cute video!
So you want to start a business, but unsure if you are moving out at the right time? Here are the top 5 windows in your life to embark on your own startup.
1. Fresh out of college
With all that burning passion to achieve great things running through your veins, you should jump straight into the startup ecosystem and build up your network as quickly as possible and start your entrepreneurial journey. Afraid that you don't have the knowledge? Get in touch with mentors or pick up important skills from Udemy, Codecademy or Codeschool! There are tons of solutions out there, you just got to get out there and try. What's the worst that can happen? Tons of priceless experiences and lessons - that's what.
2. While in graduate school
So you've decided to further your studies which means you have some spare time in between modules/classes for you to validate your business ideas and test it out with actual customers all over campus. Many universities run business competitions/hackathons - get yourself signed up! However, remember, you are not (just) looking to win that $500 top prize, you're looking for suitable partners and potential investors while giving yourself an immense opportunity to validate your idea. Even if you don't win the top prize, you might get yourself closer to potential investors which are worth a lot more than that $500 cheque.
3. In between jobs
The best way to spend your time while looking for a new job is to potentially create one for yourself. Continually hone your skills, but you don't have to make it stressful. Treat it like a project, but a project which you love and advocate - not the ones you did in school and didn't care much about once you had something better to do. Even after getting a job, you should continue building it. With the infrastructure and ecosystem readily available for anyone, you can build an entire business with less than $100. It'll also be good for covering up gaps in your resume.
4. Just became single
Remember that scene in The Social Network where Mark was dumped by his girlfriend and went back to his dormitory and started (angry) coding? The authenticity of this event doesn't matter as this is an entirely realistic situation for people to direct their emotions towards positive motivation. Whenever you are hit with a setback, take that negative emotion and drive towards a positive outcome.
5. Got passed on a promotion
Ever had that feeling that you're not being valued enough in your company? Build your own business and you'll never have to feel that way again. The only thing that matters is how well you build your business because the only evaluation you are going to get is from your customers. Do a good job and get paid more. Anyway, it's never healthy to start evaluating how much you're worth in your company and letting negative feelings brew from within.
THERE IS NO BEST TIME!
If you managed to read up to this point, then you deserve to know the truth. There is no right time to start a business. If there is, it's just RIGHT NOW. Tomorrow will always come and today will always become yesterday. We can continue to build castles in the clouds and tell your friends, "Hey, I've got an amazing idea. Imagine if you could..." and convince them that your idea is going to work; But until you get out there and build it, these are not goals, just fluffy dreams.
So if you want to build a business, just start right now. Build up a site (it's almost free), get customer validation and start selling. Tiny steps are all you need - just got to build up that startup momentum, and you'll be amazed by how easy things are after that.