Things I wish I knew prior to my startup journey.

As part of my consulting, I meet entrepreneurs with start-up or want to start-up. I spend 2 hours as part of my business initiation, to understand the person and maturity of the product idea. While I ask them to explore some of the below, only few are ready to invest time & efforts to plan their journey. Here is a reminder “Plans are necessary evil. You plan with the understanding all plans might not work.”.

Prior to my start-up, I did not know them and learnt at end of first product and second product experience. In 2011, I started as a techie experienced with team, technology and customers. I became entrepreneur coming from a family with no entrepreneurial background. Hence here is a blog to remind individuals planning their own start-ups.

Let me start with my biggest miss, not able to explain situation, I did lousy job to get buy-in of my wife and this haunted me through my start-up journey.

Get Buy-in from my family:  You need to have buy-in of your dear family mainly your wife. Start talking about the start-up idea, both the success and failure scenario. Write down their questions and try to answer them. Do not ignore ones which you do not have answer. For questions without answer, go and get answers and share with them. Do not expect them to be convinced with answers, still take best efforts possible.

After accepting a start-up mode, they have fear to run family without consistent income.

  • Most of them are hesitant to bring the topic so that you are not upset. Take initiative to bring topic in open and look at alternatives and challenges. You need to prepare them more than yourself for the start-up journey.
  • Some might share that another person has pointed out these challenges. If they are important to your dear ones, talk to them also. Not talking to them makes your dear one question your intent more.

Remember it is your idea and no one believes in your idea more than you do. Do not expect them to understand your idea and validate the same. If they fear in your start-up journey, it pulls you down emotionally and you need to do this to self protect from emotional pull downs across start-up journey.(any way they will be)

You need to perform above, before you quit your job. I did few of them after quitting my job and my wife lost some trust in me and betted on my word to bring money home every month to run family(failed few times). She was great to believe me even after my behaviour and lucky to be with her even today.

In consulting, I have met one entepreneur with his wife,open for harsh questions about their ideas another young unmarried guy at their home and takes money from his mother for my consulting charges. This is way one should be.

One could follow lean start-up idea for your start-up to develop product. That is great. If you are not aware or have less time to understand, please do not start with “Quit your job. Start writing code for your product”. You have product idea and perform the following. Reach me for any help.

Write Value Proposition message for product idea: To start, fill the below format for each of your product idea and use this in talks with others to describe product idea. For a platform idea with more than one customer type, fill this once for each customer type. When you discover new things, update the same to make it more complete.

  • For << this type of customer>>, Who << has this type of problem>>
  • We offer<< this solution>>
  • Which is <<different in this way>> From <<other competitors>>

Leverage KISS philosophy (simple and stupid) to complete them. Do not use buzzwords and make words as simple as possible. For green-field idea, find a set of firms with business that is closer to your idea to be termed as competitor to start with.

Fill Business Model Canvas: The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model. Today firms like strategyzer train how to fill business model canvas

Business Canvas has questions to helps person to structure product idea in the quest to search for new business model.

  • You need not have answers to all questions. You know what you know and what you do not know. Few more may be of type what you do not know that “you do not know”.
  • In search for answers, you get to network, some might become co-founder or moon-light employee or customers.
  • Business model canvas serves as baseline to form a mental minset of product idea.
  • Be prepared to hear that your idea is lousy and is not needed. Listen to them and write them. Do not argue with them.

Application UI Design : In your techie experience, you worked with UI experts or has less work experience with UI experts. or have worked with UI experts as manager. Lot of us feel that we do not have UI skills. We cannot afford to hire UI skills.

If you agree and acknolwedge the need for design for your product, you can do something to make your application not look worse(some thing ok).  if you are manager, you might have UI skills to discover or can learn UI skills to lead.

  • Attend online courses(some free) that talk about UI design practices Please attend them and get familar with concepts.
  • Do research on innovative websites and applications. Use trial version and take snapshots for features that you want in your application. Share them with your developer and ask for the effort to develop them. Any UI developer will feel motivated to come with more ideas. Try and experiment some of them.
  • Do not say to your developer that you have no idea about design. Talk to some of your friends or contacts who might work as UI designer in larger corporate. Go and ask for feedback to them and they will give criitcal ones. Water down harsh part of feedback and share cool part with your developers.

Web-site Design : Do not benchmark first website with corproate site. You need some thing simple with focus on what customer would perceive on coming to website. When there are multiple customers, choose one customer segment and the home page targets this customer segment.  You display value proposition and Call to Action for this customer in the home page.

  • Efforts required for design layout of website is different from the developer effort required to program the website.
  • There is additional effort to come with content(images, text) for website. As techie, one understand design and developer efforts, and under-estimates content effort.
  • Better for content writer and UI designer to sit next to each other focused (say for 36 hours) and complete the website.  when you do not sit next to each other, the website gets delayed for long time.
  • Do not expect the website to be one-time affair. You might have to update website multiple times. Design to perform minor updates without designer.
  • Some websites talk about the company, product features and team. These are good for internal pages in the website. when end user likes value proposition in home page, interest comes to know who is behind product and what are the features.

Build your network:  As employee of corporate, one can attend special interest groups and share your idea. I was part of cloud camp and also part of android and amazon meetup groups. Being early member in some of these groups created network with entrepreneurs who I am in touch even today.

When you perform action in area and also hear to speaker talk of the challenge in area for action, you understand better speaker and can ask questions. Recommend entrepreneurs to

  • Be part of TIE, try to participate iSpirit session. Attend meetings in Microsoft accelerator. Some might ask small token money for networking sessions and it is really worth to pay or even have a membership.
  • Attend meetings , open to meet people who want to start-up may be in your area or different area. Some may be entrepreneurs. Do not attend all meetings. Plan some time every week to attend meetings to identify the right community for your idea.
  • Free industry sessions of India Product Leadership helped me to learn concepts like value proposition, business model canvas, and digital marketing.
  • Blogs of close.io explained that my sales challenges due to my ignorance.
  • YourStory helps to search for competitor or be aware of other startups in your space.

Gain domain experience:  For techies, please reach people to get exposure to domain and get your value proposition validated by domain experts you might connect through your friendship circles. Some of contacts would describe of similar start-ups. Now you can look at their website and compare with your plans.

Some of them can become prospects for your product idea. If one of them likes your product idea, their competitor might also be a prospect to sell your product.

Learn sell process and what it means to sell.  In my start-up, we started with product idea in green field area. Today I know Greenfield area expects that we introduce product concept to customer and sell product. Being techie those days, I considered creating product in Greenfield was cool and did not questioned our sales capability to sell product even in areas with competitors.

If your employer provides you pre-sales opportunity, please do that even if you have to spend additional time. Sales is not account management with existing customers. As a techie, you may have limited or no sales capability. Sales exposure in a large company would help you learn customer development process.

Be prepared to tailor the same for your start-up. You would have no experience to make direct calls to customer by phone or walk to their office. You can learn sales being aware of customer development process and open to learn for mistakes and ability to be resilient to handle rejections.

Explore external consulting opportunity: If you have niche skills, go ahead and perform consulting opportunities. Better do this when you are in job over weekend or in night. Look these opportunities to validate your problem and solution and not for making money. Collect money given as it might validate some of your thoughts without actual risk.

In 2011, I failed to leverage consulting with cloud skills after joining my start-up and know of folks who leveraged their Big Data skills and have start-up in that space today. I still remember a great friend running a cloud company asked to experiment my ideas offering me infrastructure

Remember all interactions might lead to creation of new networks and relationships. You have opportunity to articulate and sell your skills. Both are needed to sell your product. Please allot limited hours for consulting and be aware that you are doing to get prepared for your product and not to become consultant /Service Company.