I’m a reformed wantrepreneur. In 2005 and 2008, I made halfhearted attempts at starting businesses. I got stuck, in the same way many wantrepreneurs do, by getting caught in the ideation stage instead of the real work of building a business. Both times I had marketable ideas and products and was on the cusp of launching, but never did. But I learned. In 2011, I quit my job and had my first paying customer within two weeks. My company is now a leader in the marketing space with dozens of top clients.
Here’s what I learned.
Most wantrepreneurs get enamored and stuck in the ideating phase and confuse that for work/building a business. It’s fun to think of new products and services, see unfulfilled demand, but the real work hasn’t started. The ideation stage is like quicksand; the longer you sit there, the harder it is to get out. Don’t perfect your idea. Build it instead.
Here’s what real entrepreneurs do:
- They have a bias to action. My dad is an entrepreneur and inventor. When we were growing up, he’d muse about the need for a particular product. He’d draw it up on a napkin and then go find someone to build it. He’d have a prototype within a few days. Most of his prototypes never made it further than that stage, but with those prototypes he had overcome one of the largest barriers to launching a product/business: breaking free of the ideation stage. He had a product.
- Quest for learning. Entrepreneurs know how little they know. So they get busy learning and reading. Drew Houston used to pick up books on every topic and sit down and read through the entire weekend to learn about business, sales, marketing and any other topic. Get reading. Start anywhere.
- They’re scrappy. If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, if you’re comfortable having an office, administrative support, paid lunches and Pilates classes then please stop reading now and go back to Hooli. The reward for entrepreneurship is in the work, and the work isn’t always pretty. Scrappy means finding a way.
- They see opportunity instead of seeing risk. See the opportunity and envision your success. There’s no point in worrying about what happens if you fail. If you’re strong enough to go out and start a business then you’re more than strong enough to bounce back from failure. The only true failure is the one you didn’t learn from. So know that and envision the success.
- They focus on solving a problem. Google didn’t set out to become the next Microsoft or Yahoo (both hugely successful companies when Google launched in the late 90?s), they set out with one simple mission: to build a better search engine. Snapchat didn’t set out to be the next Facebook or media platform, they set out with the idea of an easier way to sharing photos and communicating. Don’t set out to build the next Snapchat. Find the problem, create what solves it and build that. Start small. You don’t need endless ideas, you just need one good executable one.
- They’re impatient. If you wait until the right time, you’re too late. By the time you wait until there’s a market for it, there will be a pile of competitors. There’s never a right time to start a business; get started now. If you’ve thought of it, there’s a high likelihood you’re not the only one. Be the first.
- They have conviction. Build a basic business model, show how it can make money and then run by some friends and colleagues for feedback. If they think it’s viable, ask if they’d pay for it. If they say they’d pay for it, go build the damn thing and believe it can happen. Don’t get stuck in a consultant level analysis. The best consultants in the world would never have predicted the best startups. Analysis and business models are useful, but investing continual time in them has diminishing returns. Spend that time executing.
- Building, testing, learning. In a word: MVP (or in three words: Minimal Viable Prototype). You don’t want perfection of anything close to it, you want it built. For an exquisite presentation of this read: Eric Reis’ . This is essential reading for entrepreneurs.
- They start today. What’s the one thing you can do to get started to launching a business? What the biggest barrier to getting your product or business launched? Go tackle that barrier and then identify the next. Don’t wait until you get the LLC paperwork or you hear back from your lawyer or get a call back from the investors. Don’t wait for permission. You’ve already been granted that. Just go and get started like it’s a race.
There’s never been a better time to start a business. There’s never been easier access to capital, resources, learning, information and markets. Stop ideating, planning, and thinking and get building.
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