How to start your startup in 4 steps

Written on 15th May, 2011
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Having started my latest venture just over 5 months ago, and having just reached ramen profitability, I want to share some of the elements which made this startup “work” compared to some of my previous attempts. The first and arguably hardest part of a startup is actually starting, and that’s what I’m going to focus on with this post. The Internet is literally littered with the remnants of my many failed attempts (not necessarily a bad thing), so there are things I’d avoid repeating.

If I was to create a new startup, here is what I would do:

1. Have an idea

This is undoubtedly a key part, but don’t give it too much focus. If you have an idea, that’s fantastic. If you don’t, try and raise your awareness of the daily activities you carry out. Particularly pay attention in the areas which you are passionate about, because it’s important that you work on something you love. Pay attention to anything which you think could be more efficient or less painful. The best ideas are ones you will use yourself every day, and would pay for if they existed already.

A side point about ideas is that you will learn far more by being in the process of working on a bad idea than you will by waiting for the perfect idea. Even if you have the tiniest idea in the back of your mind, you will probably benefit more by going for that, even if it doesn’t work out. I certainly attribute much of the success I’ve had with Buffer to my previous experience.

2. Cut it down

This is very important. If you have an idea, break it down until you think it’s too small to be of value. That’s what you should consider your first version, in fact that’s probably too big too.

If you don’t cut out features from your initial vision, you’re much less likely to ever launch it. I’ve been there many times myself. Try to develop a fear of not shipping your idea.

Another thing to note, is that the idea of a big splash launch is worth questioning. Firstly, to link the big splash with the software being ready is very dangerous, and secondly a mindset of a big splash is inevitably going to cause you to delay getting feedback on your idea, which is the next step:

3. Share the idea, get feedback

This is one of the most important steps, and often the one which is missed out almost entirely. A lot of the time, it’s the step that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, and that was certainly the case for me. Missing this step could easily kill your startup.

There are, of course, many smart people arguing how important sharing your idea and getting feedback is in order to succeed. I wholeheartedly agree with this, and I believe we should approach our idea as a hypothesis of something we think could work, and we should be striving to validate the hypothesis by rigorously testing it.

However, there is another crucial benefit to getting feedback, and that is motivation. I’ve found myself lose motivation on something when I’ve worked on the development for too long without getting feedback, and I’ve talked to many other people starting up and found that this is key.

Get feedback to validate your idea, but more importantly get feedback so you feel good about what you’re building. One or two people saying “I can’t wait to try this” will do wonders for your motivation.

I can’t stress this point enough. It’s not buggy technology or a faulty marketing plan which will kill your startup, it’s losing motivation. Remember, you can get feedback without the product existing.

4. Go with your gut

If you’ve got this far, then you’re doing very well. In my experience, going forward from here is a matter of going with your gut. In the early stages, it’s not wise to pay too much attention to split testing or other ways to try and be confident about your decisions. Learn to act without complete information. Just be sure to balance building with feedback.

How did you get your startup off the ground? Are you about to start something? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Also, if you want to bounce any questions off me privately, I’d love to help.

Photo credit: aartj