Things I wish I knew before my startup journey

29th Apr 2015
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As part of my consulting, I meet entrepreneurs with a startup or who want to start one. I spend two hours as part of my business initiation to understand the person and maturity of the product idea. I ask them to explore a few things (listed below) before they are ready to invest the time and effort. Here is a reminder: Plans are a necessary evil. You plan with the understanding that all plans might not work.

I became an entrepreneur coming from a family with no entrepreneurial background. This is the list of things I wish I had known before I took the plunge.

yourstory-My-Startup-Journey (1)

Get ‘buy-in’ from family

Let me start with my biggest mistake. I did a lousy job of making my wife understand the need for me to start my own business and this haunted me through my startup journey.

Start talking to your family about the startup 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 an answer to; go and get answers. Do not expect them to be convinced with your answers, but still make an effort to explain.

Once they accept your decision, they may still feel insecure because there is no consistent income. Most of them are hesitant to bring up the topic so as not to upset you. Take the initiative to talk about it and look at alternatives and challenges. You need to prepare them more than yourself for the startup journey.

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 it. If they are uncertain about the project, it will affect you. You need to protect yourself from emotional pull downs in the startup journey.

My wife lost trust in my word to bring money home every month to run the family. (I had failed a few times). It was admirable of her to continue to support me and I am lucky to be with her today.

One could follow a lean startup idea while developing the product. Please do not start with quitting your job. Start with writing the code for your product or the business proposition.

Write the value proposition message for the product idea 

To start with, fill the below format for your product idea and use this in talks with others to describe the product. For a platform idea, with more than one customer type, fill this separately 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 the KISS philosophy (keep it simple,stupid) to complete them. Do not use buzzwords and keep it as simple as possible. For greenfield ideas, find a set of firms with businesses that are closer to your idea.

Also readWhy you should not start a startup


Fill the business model canvas 

The Business Model Canvas (BMC) is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model. Today, firms like Strategyzer train people on how to fill out this model. The BMC has questions to help people structure product ideas in their quest for new business models.

Keep the following points in mind while filling out the BMC:

  • You need not have answers to all the questions. You know what you know, and what you do not know is not an issue.
  • In search for answers, you get to network with people who might become co-founders, moonlighting employees, or customers.
  • The BMC serves as a baseline to form a mental mindset of the product idea.
  • Be prepared to hear that your idea is lousy and is not needed. Listen and make notes; do not argue.

Application of UI Design 

A lot of technical people feel that they do not have the UI skills but at the same time cannot afford to hire UI talent. If you feel that you need a good design for your product, you can learn UI skills.

  • Attend online courses (some are free) on UI design practices, and get familiar with design concepts.
  • Do research on innovative websites and applications. Use trial versions and take snapshots for features that you want in your application.
  • Share designs with your developer and ask him or her to develop them. Any UI developer will feel motivated to come with more ideas.
  • Never tell your developer that you have no idea about designing. Talk to some of your friends or contacts who might be working as UI designers in larger corporates. Ask them for feedback and share it with your developers. Be sure to water down the harsh part of the feedback!

Website design

Do not benchmark the first website with the corporate site. It should be something simple with focus on the customer. If there are multiple customers, choose one customer segment and target it. You should display the value proposition and ‘call to action’ for this customer on the home page.

  • The effort required for the design layout of the website is different from the developer’s effort to program the website.
  • There is an additional effort that comes with website content (images, text). As a techie, one often understands design and developer efforts, and underestimates content input.
  • It would be good for the content writer and UI designer to work together (say for 36 hours) in a focused way and complete the website to prevent delays.
  • Do not expect the website to be a one-time affair. You might have to update the website multiple times. Plan to perform minor updates without a designer.
  • Some websites talk about the company, product features, and the team. These are good for internal pages in the website. When the end user likes the value proposition on the home page, he will want to know who is behind that product and what its features are.

 Build your network 

 As a cooperate employee, one can attend special interest groups and share ideas. I was a part of a cloud camp, and Android and Amazon meetup groups. Being an early member helped me create a network with entrepreneurs who I am in touch with even today.When you hear a speaker talk of the challenges in an area, you understand the situation better, and can ask questions.

  • Be a part of TIE, and try to participate in iSpirit sessions and attend meetings in Microsoft Accelerator. Some may ask for a small token amount for networking sessions, it is worth it.
  • Attend meetings; be open to meet people who are planning startups in your area or a different one.Attend enough meetings to identify the right community for your idea.
  • Free industry sessions of India Product Leadership helped me learn concepts like value proposition, the Business Model Canvas, and digital marketing.
  • Blogs of showed me that my sales challenges were due to my ignorance.
  • YourStory helps in the searching for competitors or becoming aware of other startups in your space.

 Gain domain experience

For techies, please reach out to professionals to get domain exposure and get your value proposition validated by domain experts. Try connecting with them through your friend circles. Some of your contacts will describe similar startup situations. You can look at their website and compare it with your plans.

Learn about the selling process

In my startup, we began with a product idea in the greenfield area. Today, I know that the greenfield area expects that we introduce the product concept to the customer and then sell the product. Being a techie in those days, I considered creating products in greenfield was cool and did not question our capability to sell products, even in areas with competitors.

If your employer provides you with pre-sales opportunity, take it even if you have to spend additional time. Sales is not account management with existing customers but also cold calling. As a techie, you may have limited or no sales capability. Sales exposure in a large company would help you learn the customer development process and tailor the same for your startup. Be open to learn from your mistakes and cultivate the ability to be resilient after rejections.

Explore external consulting opportunity

If you have niche skills, go ahead and take up consulting assignments. You can do it over weekends or at night. Look at these opportunities as a way to validate your solution to a problem.This is also an opportunity to test your ideas without actual risk.

In 2011, I failed to leverage consulting opportunities that needed cloud skills. I know of colleagues who leveraged their Big Data skills and have startups in that space today. I still remember a friend running a cloud company asking me to experiment my ideas by offering me his infrastructure.

Remember all interactions might lead to the creation of new networks and relationships. That gives you the opportunity to articulate and sell your skills. But give limited hours to consulting and be aware that you are preparing for your product, and not to become a consultant or a service company.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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