How to Start a Company for the First-Time Entrepreneur

By Steve Hickey on March 23, 2017

Close-up of desk with two people working with sketches and computers on their app idea.

So you had an idea…

Congratulations!

Really, it’s exciting! Everyone has ideas, but it’s rare to have one that you just can’t shake. If this idea is so good you can’t sleep then maybe it’s time to see if you can make it a reality. But where do you even start?


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Entering the startup world is scary

Your impulse will be to just go for it,but if you’ve never dealt with this world before then it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe you’ve got a friend who works for a startup so you talk to them. But after a couple of hours of hearing about things like MVPs, VCs, LAMP stacks and DBs your head is going to be spinning. Startup world can be a hard place to break into as a newcomer.

Once you start digging you’re going to find even more problems to keep you up at night. You’re going to need designers, engineers, funding, sales staff, an office, a network of supporters and advisors. There’s a lot of work to do and if you’ve never done any of these things before they can be truly overwhelming.

There’s no point sugar-coating it. If you want to make this thing a reality then you need to be prepared for the hardest slog of your life. Fortunately, we’ve helped a ton of people in this same exact situation get started the right way. We can help you ease in.

Common hurdles

We’ve talked to a ton of people over the years in the exact same situation that you’ve found yourself in. Over time we’ve noticed the same issues coming up over and over, so here’s an FAQ of sorts to help you navigate your dive into the entrepreneurship

“So I had an idea, what will it cost to build it?”

We understand that people are extremely passionate about their ideas and want to build something right away, but until you’ve done some work to understand the market, your competitors, and your potential customers, you really don’t have anything at all.

The bad news is, plenty of companies will be happy to take your money even though you haven’t tested the idea, and build whatever you ask for. Maybe you’ll find a place that’s really cheap and doesn’t mind building the wrong thing for you as quickly as possible. Or maybe you’ll end up talking to a bunch of besuited consultants with slick marketing and persuasive salespeople who will get you to beg, borrow and steal from your family and friends so that they can spend a year doing market research and sending you fancy PowerPoint decks every few weeks to show what they’ve been doing with your life’s savings.

You can save yourself a lot of money and heartache though by doing this first phase of work yourself. In fact, it’s work you SHOULD do yourself, no matter what your resources are. If you’re going to dedicate the next phase of your life to this problem then you need to become far more of an expert on it than anyone else could ever hope to be. The job of a company like ours is to help you translate that passion and expertise into something real.

“My coworkers/friends/grandparents love this idea!”

These people also (hopefully) love you, and you’re lucky to have them. But they will tell you they love your idea because they love you. It’s just human nature, we’re hard-wired to get along. Civilization couldn’t have flourished without an instinct to avoid confrontation in favor of cooperation. They aren’t trying to hurt you, but they don’t understand that what you need right now is brutally honest feedback.

You need to start exactly where we tell everyone to start: talking to potential customers.

“Ok, how do I find out if the market loves my idea?”

Fortunately, it’s cheap and easy to talk to people. And it’ll expose you to even more real potential customers, increasing your knowledge base. Start with these articles to help you form a plan of attack.

This can be intimidating, but you’re going to have to get used to it sooner rather than later. If you want to be the CEO and sell this idea, you’re going to have to know your customers better than anyone else.

“But that’s not the idea I started with…”

We meet a lot of people that are so passionate about their idea that they can’t accept changing it. It’s inevitable that as you encounter and learn from customers you’re going to realize that their experiences don’t line up with yours 1-to-1. This is important information for any entrepreneur to respect and consider seriously. People are stubborn, and it’s much harder to convince them that you’re right about what they want. You should be figuring out what’s right for them and then responding. This is how you truly achieve product market fit.

“Didn’t Henry Ford say ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’?”

No. And that’s not what we’re saying you should do. You don’t ever want to ask people what they want. In fact, we strongly believe that is the worst possible question you could ask. People are bad at seeing things from the perspective of others, and they’re really good at jumping quickly to a solution that’s perfect for them. But if you want to run a successful business you need to solve a big enough problem to get people to pay.

You don’t get there by building exactly what the first person who agrees with you asks for. You get there by figuring out what the deeper, shared problem is and then creating an innovative solution to it. If you do your customer interviews well you should uncover some great information that will give you much higher confidence in figuring out the right thing to build.

“Ok, I think I understand the problems. Let’s build!”

This is where a company like ours can come into the picture, but there are actually other things you can do before paying for a build to further validate your idea. Take a look at some of these articles and you’ll get an idea for how much further you could carry your validation efforts before a single line of code is written:

“Seriously. I did my homework. The idea has value, I found people who want to pay for it, and I have a great understanding of their problems. Can we build now?”

Yes.

If you don’t know how to code or design this is exactly where you want to enlist outside help. There are a ton of things a good product consultancy can do for you. If you have funding we can figure out what a Minimum Viable Product is and help you make it real. If you don’t have funding we can help you make prototypes and use those to get investors excited. If you have unanswered questions but a lot of customer information we can hold a Design Sprint and help you turn that data into insights.

There’s endless opportunity ahead of you. The important thing is that you put in the work to understand your customers, avoid unnecessary risk with a premature build, and understand what the path ahead looks like.


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Read more

This is the “must read” list we send to every new founder we meet. These four books will form the cornerstone of your new approach to business.

Lean Startup

Aside from being a good look at “typical” startup operations this is essentially the manual that most modern startups use in guiding their experiments along to becoming a successful business. If you read one book, this should be it.

Sprint

There is some great practical advice in here for quickly getting to a testable prototype to validate your ideas. With the right team around you it’s possible to get there in a week!

Just Enough Research

This is everything you need to know about getting the background on your problem. If you do everything in this book and still don’t understand what you’re trying to solve, then I will personally give you a refund.

Hooked

Once you get users you need to keep them, and this book outlines a great model for understanding how to do that by building enduring habits.

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