A couple of weeks ago I reconnected with a friend from high school and provided the life summary to date thing we all do now. In her response she commented it must be hard work getting a business launched. It has stuck with me for some weeks now because, having launched a few businesses in my life, I don’t see the launch as anywhere near as challenging as the subsequent 12 months. Getting the rocket off the ground has its challenges, but, getting the rocket to do what it needs in flight, arrive at the destination (and maybe return, like Apollo) are huge feats.
Many startups we run into are very sketchy about what it will take to get to where they want to go. Many don’t even know where they want to go. They have dreams, but, no real approach to achieving them. I thought I would collect up some of the issues that we are always asking people to consider as they go through the earliest stage development of their business. Only each entrepreneur can generate the answers to these questions. There are no wrong answers because the script for the business is being written by the entrepreneur. Our role is to make sure that the best questions are being considered and that the answers are all in alignment. PUtting things in alignment creates a path. Failure to think through the alignment of the answers will cost the entrepreneur months of learning as they go. The entrepreneur with a target and a path is far more likely to achieve the success they seek (and far faster) than the entrepreneur who has only a good idea and just gets going.
What role does the entrepreneur want to play in the business? Creative Director? Sales Manager? Product Developer? Master Crafstman? Chief Executive?
Will the business need capital? If so, from where? Is the entrepreneur willing to go shopping for capital? Can they get others excited about their opportunity enough to put capital into the business? Is their vision of the future a foreseeable outcome to outsiders?
Is the entrepreneur willing to put the business ahead of their own needs as they would with a child? Will they make sales calls on weekends? Will they talk to Customers at any time? Will they rearrange their calendar because a vendor meeting is needed? Will they hit product development schedules on time even though their family vacation overlaps the deadline?
Is the entrepreneur working to create a job, a paying hobby, a company, or just a product? How much time (hours per week) are they expecting to put into the business? How long (calendar) are they expecting it to take to reach some identifiable level of success?
What is the first measure of success the entrepreneur wants to experience? Getting that first sale? Landing a “big one”? Finding Customers who like them? The first sale at their website?
What can the entrepreneur foresee in their dreams of success? Buildings with names on them? Lots of staff? Products in 1000s of locations? Making a monthly paycheck?
How does the entrepreneur plan to define success (keep score)? Financial in sales? Financial in profits? Financial in personal income? Number of customers/clients? A news article in the paper?
What does the entrepreneur envision in the selling effort? They are the lead sales person, so what do they expect to be doing?
How does the entrepreneur plan to meet the promises of the business to the first Customers/clients? All time spent meeting yesterdays sales promise is time not spent on creating the sales for tomorrow.
Any entrepreneur can create their own list of questions, hopefully before they go into business. Starting a business is like getting in shape or losing weight, it is not a one day activity. Without a good understanding of what one wants to get from one’s effort, there is a very likely chance that they will struggle to find out along the way. Ask the hardest questions possible, and most importantly, write down the answers. Thinking changes, you’ll want to know why.