Every entrepreneur's trajectory will be different but once your business idea appears promising, there are some building blocks worth having in place. Even knowing that the shape or the position of those building blocks will shift and adjust as you progress further down your path, it's useful to start with some fundamentals.
Here are nine questions to help you figure out those building blocks right from the start.
1. Do you have time for this?
Spoiler alert: probably not. Like having a child or getting married, there is never a perfect time to launch a startup. So the question is actually, do you have time for this anyway?
2. Could you describe your new business in 30 seconds?
Name the value proposition of your product or service. Then explain why you and only you are uniquely qualified to deliver it. Be able to do this in 30 seconds or less.
3. Are you ready (like, really ready) to shoulder the burden?
You will likely be the point person at the start and at the end of this business. But in between is about sharing the stage, and building the right team and the right culture.
4. Where's the money?
Where will the money come from for your startup costs? Consider basic things like marketing collateral, office space and travel expenses, all the way to the tools or equipment that are specific to your industry.
If you've been ramping up the business as a side hustle while keeping your "day job," keep in mind all the perks of an established business that will no longer be available to you once you're on your own.
5. How much will customers or clients pay?
Think about your customers, and what they're willing to pay for your new product or service. You likely have some insight into this already, given some amount of familiarity with your target industry and its going rates.
Assuming that you're offering something new or unique, however, means that you'll need to make some adjustments to the going rate, and that means convincing a whole new set of customers to pay a whole new price.
6. Do you have the stomach for this?
It's about fortitude, as winemakers say when they're asked if they'd take the risk or using natural (rather than synthetic) yeast in the fermentation process. When they're being truly honest, most don't have that aptitude for risk, as sexy and as innovative as it sounds. A similar degree of fortitude applies to entrepreneurs. Sexy idea, sure. But in the dark of the startup night? Maybe not so much.
7. How seduced are you by the image of an entrepreneur?
We're all seduced by it, to some extent. But can you separate the romantic notions of being an entrepreneur from the foundational mission of your business? The life of an entrepreneur is tough. I know you won't believe me at first; I didn't believe it at first either. But I've done very few things that are tougher than this.
8. Are you okay with done, rather than perfect?
Think about this question in your day-to-day life right now. How many times do you read or re-read an email, for example, before you send it? Once you do send something out, how damaged are you by negative feedback? Do you recover quickly? The "fail fast" tenet is reality for entrepreneurs, so start experimenting with your comfort level around that.
9. What is your mission?
No, really. What is your mission? "We're building this company to sell," or "We want to make x millions of dollars" may actually be your end goal, but that's different than your mission.
Think of it like an hourglass. At one end of the hourglass, from the top to the middle, are all the streams of motivation and input that inform your interest in this particular business category. The opposite end, at the bottom, is your end goal, which may in fact be building the business to sell.
In between, at the waist of the hourglass, is your mission. It's the skinniest part for a reason, which is the narrowly defined unique value that your startup adds to the ecosystem of its category. What can you do that no one else can do as well, that will ultimately add value to a specific type of customer? And, most importantly, why do you want to do it? Your mission lies right at the sweet spot.
At the end of the day, and at the end of this list of questions, is your reality. Each of these questions does have relevancy as you're considering the startup life, but the "secret sauce" is your unique perspective and the circumstances that will shape the next phase of your professional life.