“A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Eric Ries
There is a lot of bullshit in startup land. Every second person is starting an incubator, raising money, pivoting, exiting, scaling, starting, failing, and telling the world as they do it. That said, I do prefer the word “Startup” to the word “Business,” which is why I’ve used it in this book. A business is anything that derives a wage for its founder. By that definition, buying a lawn mowing franchise or opening a corner store is a business. But neither is a startup. A startup is a bit more exciting. It has:
1. High impact potential.
2. High levels of innovation.
3. High levels of uncertainty.
A local business can’t be a startup without ambitions to take it to the world. A franchise restricted by franchise rules can’t be a startup. Neither has the potential for a big impact. Eric Ries defines a startup as “a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” That doesn’t mean you have to risk everything to create a startup. This book is primarily about reducing risk. But with a startup, you do lose some of the predictability and certainty that comes with less innovative businesses. If there’s no innovation, then it’s not a startup. That’s why the majority of startups have a technical focus.
That said, innovation can also be present in ways other than with technology. With high impact potential and high levels of innovation, a startup has the ability to change the world. That’s why I want you to think about launching a startup instead of a business. Anyone can create a job for themselves. But not everyone can change the world Idea, Execution, Hustle “Things may come to those who wait … but only the things left by those who hustle.”
Anonymous There is so much business advice out there that it’s hard to cut through what’s needed to get a startup going. Consider the following popular maxims: Work on your business, not in your business—impossible and impractical when you are bootstrapping a new idea. Optimize your funnel—pointless when you have no leads. Hack your growth—difficult before you have customers. The goal of this book is to get you from a wantrepreneur (someone who wants to be an entrepreneur) to an entrepreneur.
From someone who has an idea to someone who has a startup. I chat with wantrepreneurs about their ideas all the time. Almost every time they are failing at one of three things, almost in equal measure. On the flip side, successful startup companies excel at all of them. I can’t think of a single entrepreneur that I’ve met who does all of these things well. This is part of the reason why the vast majority of successful startups are teams, not individuals. Be honest with yourself. If you can’t do all of these things alone, it’s time to find a co-founder.
Another popular maxim in entrepreneurial circles is, “Ideas don’t matter, only execution matters.” That advice is well-intentioned but wrong. Take a look at the trending startups on Angel List, the companies getting funded through Crunchbase, or think about your successful entrepreneurial friends. They are all working on something that has some sort of unique quality to it. It might not be the next iPhone, but it is an idea that has successfully captured enough attention to take off. Your idea is important and I dedicate a fair amount of time to it on Day 1. The problem is, it’s only one part of three elements required to successfully get a startup off the ground. It’s where wantrepreneurs spend 100% of their time. They can talk ‘till they are blue in the face about their idea, but when it comes to the other elements, they fall flat. We will spend one day on your idea, you will choose the best one, and then we’ll move on.
Once you have an idea that has some merit, it needs to be executed well. This book is all about getting something to market quickly. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an ongoing process to continually execute your idea well. Execution is your ability to present your idea just as well as the best ideas in the world. You won’t be able to execute your idea in seven days at a level that compares with the best in the world. That should be your goal in the medium term. There’s no use complaining about being self-funded and not having resources. Customers don’t care. They make comparisons and make a choice. If you don’t execute as well as the competition, they will choose the competition. Execution is a really big problem outside of the big startup hubs. It’s very misunderstood, and simply getting a brand and a website to look and feel like an exciting startup is difficult. If you aren’t able to present your idea in a way that compares favourably with the best in the world, then look for a co-founder who can.
The final element is a hustle. I’m not necessarily talking about cold calling or “getting out of the building.” Hustle is relentlessly pursuing what needs to be done at the time. Hustle is Marco Zappacosta from Thumbtack getting a “No” from 42 out of 44 VCs. Hustle is Seth Godin getting 900 rejection letters in a row. Hustle is Chris Sacca creating a company, a website, and business cards just to be taken seriously at networking events. Hustle for an early-stage startup is generally about spending your time on the things that are most likely to bring you, customers. That could mean “getting out of the building” for some. For you, your skillset, your customers, and your business, it might mean something totally different. I built my business off the back of content marketing. I wrote 250 posts in the first year, 13 in one day. Our content is now a lead generation machine to the point where we don’t advertise at all. For you, it could be networking. It could be calling people and asking them to pay. It could be working on relationships. Whatever it is, it has to be the best way for you to spend your time, to solve your biggest problem right now. If you don’t yet have a business, you need to launch and this book will help you do that. You need to hustle for the next seven days and you can get it done. You have to not do the other stuff, and relentlessly pursue launching. Once you launch, you need to get more people paying you. You have to relentlessly pursue your best method of getting customers and not the stuff you naturally gravitate to.
Anti-hustle is what wantrepreneurs do. They do everything other than what needs to be done. They keep coding. They design new features. They optimize their site. They think up new, world-changing ideas. They hang out at startup events discussing their idea. They go to startup weekend and launch a new idea. They do everything other than what they need to do—which, more often than not, is getting more customers. Some people are not good at the hustle. They don’t know how to filter the noise, work out what they really need to do, and then tirelessly get that shit done. Be honest with yourself. If the idea, execution, or hustle are not you, then find a co-founder who excels in those areas. You will need it if you want to have a successful startup.