The ultimate startup guide

The Winter 2017/2018 issue of Inc. Magazine’s cover story was entitled, “The Ultimate Startup Guide”. It was sub-titled “21 pages of wisdom gained the hard way by successful founders”. I couldn’t resist buying it in the Palm Beach International airport.

The article was entitled The First 90 Days and was billed as a checklist of real-life advice from successful founders. Supposedly the decisions made in the first three months of a startup can make all the difference. So, what do the likes of Adrianna Huffington, Steve Blank, Pierre Omidyar, Sara Blakely and Elon Musk have to say?

Leigh Buchanan, Inc. Editor-at-large
The idea behind a minimum viable product is to get your offering as quickly as possible into the hands of customers to generate feedback. But first you have to make sure you are solving the right problem. Market data and surveys won’t tell you that. For those insights, you have to get as close to the customer experience as possible.

Jon Kolko, founder of Austin Center for Design
Your first job is to know your customer. Not just who she is but also what she wants, what she does and how she feels about what she does. That means embedding in customers’ lives and work…ask the customer-master to let you observe her in action…ask potential customers of you can spend time in their offices or on their factory floors…ask open-ended questions about the experience and workflow. This process provides pragmatic understanding of pain points and an emotional context that lets you see things through your customer’s eyes.

Adrianna Huffington, Co-Founder of HuffPost
The first question was “What problem are you solving and what are you bringing to the market that is not already there.”

Nathaniel Ru, Co-CEO of Sweetgreen
In the first days…you need guidance and advice from other entrepreneurs. At the very least, you’ll want an experienced eye to look over your business plan, if you decide to do one.

At Sweetgrass, our mentors asked a lot of tough helpful questions – about our financial model, our brand positioning, our restaurant design, and more. The emphasis is on what you can learn not about your industry, but rather about your idea. 

Randy Komisar, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Once you’ve identified your value proposition, go back and look at real companies that have done something at least roughly similar…seriously question whether this is something anyone wants…identify your leaps of faith: what you don’t know but assume about the market. 

Steve Blank, Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and launcher of the Startup movement
New entrepreneurs misunderstand what Kickstarter is for. They think it is a way for customer discovery, to test their product’s appeal…the minute you commit to Kickstarter, if you get funded, you are entering two years of indentured servitude until you deliver that product. Instead to the hard work of customer discovery, which will likely take more than 90 days. Once you have a product you know solves a real customer problem, then Kickstarter can help you scale demand. Kickstarter before customer discovery is the lazy entrepreneur’s approach to starting up. 

David S. Rose, Entrepreneur, Investor
Every single serial entrepreneur with whom I have spoken has told me, “If only I hadn’t tried to do it myself, I would’ve saved $100,000. A penny saved on professional advice is $100,000 lost in cleanup expenses. 

Although it may come as a surprise, investors do not fund ideas, no matter how good or how potentially profitable they are. A typical angel investor looks at 40 opportunities for every investment made; a typical VC looks at 400. And the investments they make will be in companies, not ideas. Spending months trying to raise funds for ideas is fruitless and dispiriting. 

Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx
Focusing on solving a problem is a great way to keep motivated when the going gets tough. And if you’ve had the problem, others probably have as well. Before going further, make sure that assumption is true by testing your ideas with potential customers…she founded Spanx because she wanted to look better in her favorite pants. 

Philip Krim, Co-Founder of Casper
To excite investors, focus on the big picture, not the details. Early stage investors get excited about hearing your story, and how you’re going to change the world and why. They do not respond to a tactical conversation and you need tactical spreadsheets, but they do not sell the dream.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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