Start-ups & Entrepreneurship: Where to Start?

by Bradley Miller on October 13, 2009

An amazing amount of books and sites and resources exist to help you start a business.  Whether you want to open a custom bakery shop or start the next big thing in life science, there’s someone out there willing to give you advice. Too many voices, with too many opinions, some trying to help, others not so much.  Knowing who and what to listen to is perhaps the toughest first decision you’ll have to make.  Most authors write books with hundreds of pages, telling you to write elaborate business plans, to create massive financial models in excel and so on.  My experience tells me this is wrong – at least for the most part.  Make no mistake – most of these authors and advisors are there to sell books or consulting service, so buyer beware.

My rule of thumb for just about everything in life is the K.I.S.S. principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.  And I mean that the more complicated something becomes, the higher likelihood that it’s wrong.  Don’t get me wrong, I have made these mistakes – my co-founders and I became inundated by advice and books and speakers and lectures, etc.  For the most part, young companies need to validate their ideas and create a plan and messaging that will help them convey their idea, build a solid company and recruit quality help, including strong investors.

I’m a fan of finding multiple sources and integrating the different messages and figuring out the common themes and utilizing those common themes as my starting point.  I say this as opposed to following only one “guru” for advice.  In other words, I start by figuring out how to start.  As much as I think he’s a book salesman rather than a great help, Guy Kawasaki does have some excellent points when it comes to what topics to think about.  His first, incredibly important piece of advice is to make meaning with your company.  Think about what your idea accomplishes – does it matter to people?  Does it create value for them? How does it create that value and how will you sustain your advantage?  While I hope your business accomplishes some social good, more importantly it will create value for all of its clients and customers, which in turn is good for socioeconomics.  If it creates a social good, too, then mazel tov. Take this idea and force yourself to condense it to something you can explain in 20 seconds – it’s called an elevator pitch.  This will help you clarify your idea, force you to communicate concisely and effectively, and ensure you adhere to the KISS principle.

His second point comes buried in his 10/20/30 Rule.  Also available on YouTube.  After assessing the big picture of your idea and beginning to lay your thought foundation, Guy’s 10 slide outline can really help guide the way you think about your company.  It can help focus your thoughts and remind you of the important bases to cover.  It also serves to remind you to be succinct and to really know what you’re talking about.  Sequoia has a more robust example of these slides on their business ideas page.  Their outline is more in depth than you have to be at this point, but it serves again as a proper outline of things to think about.  By covering these topics you will begin to be prepared to test out your idea and will prepare you to handle many of the initial questions that will come your way.

Once you have some of this down, my next suggestion, before you put too much more thought in to the depth of the idea and company is to begin to socialize the idea with your friends and trusted colleagues.  Once you’ve gone through and understand the outline of your idea, running it past your friends will not only help you become more succinct and force you to really know your business idea, but it also helps to jump start the social component of starting a company.  Utilizing your network is a huge must at this point.  Use your contacts and their expertise to refine your idea.  Use their networks to begin to get in touch with other experts or investors.  Not so much to pitch, but to air out the idea and get feedback.  This exercise will yield an incredibly useful set of opinions and improvements – not only in your idea, but also in how you present it and skillfully get your points across to other people.  Finally, don’t be afraid to share your idea.  To be sure, don’t go blabbing all the proprietary technology or thoughts, but accurate highlights of your idea will be necessary for proper feedback.

I’d suggest starting this process 2-6 months before you really want to get going on actually building the business.  One of the lessons that I had to learn was that ideas really do need time to marinate.  Prior to my first start-up, I would have ignored this piece of advice, but these days, I think it’s critical.  Don’t sit on your idea too long, but do socialize it, improve it, and along the way begin to map out how you’d like to see it develop and turn it in to a business.

An additional resource to start with is by my friend David Weekly – he has a great presentation on lean start-upsvideo here.  Also good is Aaron Patzer’s presentation on Minto.com and it’s beginnings. Video here.  While I heavily suggest not getting mired in the details at this stage, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with these topics and putting them in your consciousness somewhere for later use.  Learning these things also takes a good amount of time to really sink in.  Stanford has a great entrepreneurship video series and VentureBeat also has a phenomenal resource for entrepreneurs called Entrepreneur Corner. Again, don’t get bogged down, but do start watching.  Great lessons to learn.

Come up with the idea, flesh it out and then socialize it.  Thoroughly.  Next steps, well, those will be my next post.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Gil Effron October 14, 2009 at 11:23 am

K.I.S.S. is great advice and I believe in it whole-heartedly. You cover all the salient points for a start-up. I find the biggest problem with people starting a business is that they don’t know what they don’t know. They assume a great deal — usually based on their own personal preferences and experiences. I like to think that someone starting a business would learn to ask, “What do you think?” rather than announcing to the world, “Here’s what I think!”

Bradley Miller October 14, 2009 at 11:35 am

Hi Gil – I completely agree and you bring up a much better and succinct way of what I was trying to say. Quite often, the biggest hurdle is “not knowing what you don’t know” and to me it seems like the only way to surmount this issue is by socializing the idea with trusted friends and colleagues. As a note, I wasn’t trying to cover the gamut from idea to full business, but rather I was thinking about how to test and refine your idea before pouring your heart and soul in to the business. I’m curious if you have any other techniques or ideas for folks at such an early stage?

akshay July 25, 2017 at 11:01 pm

thank you for valuable information it is really help ful for me
stanford entrepreneurship talks

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