I previously worked at LinkedIn where I built a mentorship program for my peers out of sheer passion, and pretty quickly one thing led to another and I started my own company building mentorship programs at scale for massive workforces. I was a total outsider to Silicon Valley, and I wish I had some time to prep for entrepreneurship before I jumped all in. So I want you to have the right insights and networks to accelerate your learning so you can build, sell, raise faster!
Entrepreneurship is certainly a fulfilling journey, but ask yourself these four questions to determine if you're ready to take the plunge.
1. Are you solving a real problem that people will pay you for?
Roughly 90 percent of startups fail, and often the reason for this failure is building products that no one wants.
The most successful founders solve for problems that they have first hand experience with. Make sure you have definitive answers these questions: Is there someone who will use my product or service? What need are they fufiling? Who will be the person paying for the product? Here are some business models to consider.
In my case, I wanted to level the playing field for the workforce by connecting them to mentors at their companies. Before starting my company Nextplay.ai, I spent over a year talking to professionals in my network about their mentorship needs and I ran a small mentorship program at my workplace.
Once I had clarity from my users about their needs around career growth and professional development, and once I validated that there's a buyer profile who needs this offering, I took a deep breath and quit my job to start Nextplay.ai.
2. Why do you care about this?
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I went through four co-founders before finding the one. A top tier VC firm offered us a term sheet for a million dollars and then took it back just because they changed their mind. The first time we piloted our product everyone hated it. And at one time when starting my company I had only $300 remaining in my bank account and I didn't know how I was going to pay rent the next month.
What keeps me going everyday is my why. Inspired by my own experiences, I fundamentally believe that workplaces should have systems in place for women and minorities to have equal access to mentorship and sponsorship. To me, this mission is worthy of all the the hurdles, rejections and battles I've had to face, but I keep going because my motivation comes from deep within.
What's your why? Why do you care about building the product/service you want to build? Write it down and remember it every time you hit a wall on your startup journey.
3. Are you prepared to be in the driver's seat?
As an entrepreneur, I have the luxury of working on my own schedule, choosing my investors/employees/early adopters, and calling the shots. But with great power comes great responsibility, doesn't it?
I'm the one who has to ultimately set the vision and make decisions after getting contradictory advice on everything from fundraising strategy to product roadmap. It's scary because if you're creating something that doesn't exist yet, there's no playbook to follow, and your team relies on you to turn ambiguity into a clear vision and defined metrics.
There will be a lot of trial and error, and you will be just fine if you are committed to your mission and have a growth mindset. But it's important to realize that no matter how many accelerators you do or how many advisors your recruit, no one can hand you an instruction manual to follow. Are you ready to create the lego pieces and put them together?
4. Do you know the right people to achieve your three biggest milestones?
Write down three things you want to achieve in the first three to six months of building your startup. For me, my three milestones were building an MVP, getting at least one paid pilot and raising some money to support myself/make one to two hires. Now think about the people you need to know to achieve these three milestones.
For my milestones, I needed to know programmers (to build my MVP), HR leaders at companies (buyers) and angel investors. I didn't know people in any of these categories so I started getting coffee with the people I did know and I asked them for introductions and eventually, the persistence paid off. My first clients, my first investors, my first hires came through warm introductions, and knowing the right people made all the difference.
Cultivating your network strategically is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success, and it's never too early to start. Pick up your phone right now, and text someone in your network to ask them out for coffee, and when you meet them ask them to introduce you to someone in their network and so on. It's not about who you know, it's about who you know knows.