How to get going on a startup

Quora blogging is back… Yesterday someone asked me how they could break into the startup game, so I tried to find a good post on Quora to send him. Turns out, there was almost exactly that question waiting for me (link to post) when I logged in, so I just answered that.

Short answer: In today’s world, you will most likely have to go ahead and build a product, even a very basic version, to show someone that you are worth investing in.

Long answer:

Here’s a potential list of you to go by, assuming that you are in jobs, and live a rather busy life. In case you are in college or freelancing, things will probably be a lot easier (because you have more time and flexibility to refocus on “the new thing”).

1. Define “the new thing”:

What do you want to do? Where do you want to end up with?
This is important for both of you to understand in the first place, and will hopefully be solved already: both of you had an idea together and you now want to turn it into a company/potential business. Even if you say “we just want to try”, you will have to see for yourselves how committed you are, and how far you want to take it (taking into account current jobs, future contracts, family, etc).

2. Start building.

(I assume) you both have the skills to build, so just go ahead and come up with a first iteration or version of it. It can be total crap, but you will find out

  • what you need to improve
  • what you need to teach yourself to make it better
  • what works well and – gasp – other people like about it

3. Rinse and repeat, find time and energy by:

  • taking small steps to have instant feedback and rewards
  • agreeing on some days or hours you both work on it together
  • not letting it slip off the radar – prioritising it
  • talking about it – friends, early users, and lurkers will keep you on your toes with feedback and comments

4. Start getting into the startup game:

  • READ ALL THE BOOKS (“The Lean Startup” will suffice)
  • READ ALL THE BLOGS (Hackernews and Quora will give you a decent start on what’s relevant)
  • Go to some events, and try to learn from them, get value and feedback. Don’t go back if you found it nice, but not valuable for your “New Thing”.

5. Try charging for what you have.

You will be surprised by how many people might pay you for it.

6. Start thinking about getting money again when:

  • you have built something
  • you want to/need to make this a full time gig
  • your savings run out
  • there is a lot of buzz and traction around your idea (i.e. people are passionate about using it)

Also, do NOT look for money to do one of the following:

  • Architect your product to scale to facebook size (worry about users first)
  • Legitimise doing a startup to your family, partner, or friends (you are the CEO, that’s totally legit)
  • Build a marketing/biz dev/HR/legal/any team before people are actually using your product

7. Go talk to business angels and good accelerator programs to see who would be a good fit

  • think about this earlier than when you actually need it (you will anyways)
  • find out what they are looking for, and see if you are a good fit
  • pitch them.

8. Go build that company

rinse and repeat above, and start dishing out advice on Quora