3 Steps to Start Your Startup
In my last article, I shared 5 blockers people experience in getting started with their startup.
First of all, most people who aspire to create a startup, believe they need:
- An idea
- A co-founder
- Knowledge and experience
Although you do need all of those ingredients, you don’t need them at the start. The only thing you need at the start is your decision to start. And then your dedication to making it happen. How to express that dedication is what I will share in this article. The fifth blocker I shared is ‘fear of failure’. People are scared of things that usually never happen. We imagine all sorts of things that could happen IF we fail (but of course we won’t!); people criticising us, losing all our savings, looking bad in our community etc. To combat this fear, just think about the worst thing that could happen. Describe for yourself the absolute most horrible situation you could be in IF you fail. Then accept that this can happen. And do everything you can to avoid this from happening. And that’s what this article is about: just do it!
Here are 3 things that can help you get started:
- Define your rocks and monkeys
Your rocks are the big priorities you define. Many people have difficulties defining their priorities. But without clear rocks, you won’t move. Whatever you call them; rocks, goals, priorities, define the most important things for you to work on that will have the biggest impact on your progress. I learned that setting rocks per quarter works best, especially in a startup period; you don’t see what’s coming, so looking 3 months ahead is good enough. You could set some long-term goals for 6, 12 or even 36 months; but in the beginning, you’ll change those all the time anyway. So focus on quarters.
One wonderful book that can help you set your priorities is ‘First Things First’ from Stephen Covey. His 4 quadrants can help you identify things that are important, not important, urgent and not urgent. Based on this classification, it becomes easier to see what you should be working on.
Another one is the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. Tim shares a format called ‘dreamlining’: you define your 6 and 12-month dreams. You then quantify the monthly costs involved to realize each of those dreams. You sum up the costs and you have your target monthly income. Then you define steps to achieve that target income and realize your dreams. It’s a bit more elaborate than that, so please read the book or use google to understand how this works exactly!
As an example, I’ll share a rock that I personally have. I’m building my second service company, Ekipa. I’ve learned a lot from my first (Bridge Global) and one of the things I learned is that in order to create a company that can live without me (which is what I aspire to), I need a very strong team. In that team, I must have some strong leader with discipline and structure. The past month, we have grown quite a bit in terms of new clients as well as new agile coaches and scrum masters. This creates some chaos because more people means we have to onboard people, explain to them how we work, implement more systems rules and policies. And onboarding new customers means that we need to deliver value, using a structured approach, executed by people who know what is expected of them to deliver our level of quality. With fast growth, it’s hard to create this structure in a short time span. Earlier in my life, I always wanted to fix everything by myself. But I learned that A. this takes a lot more time, B. it’s not a long-term solution and C. it brings me stress (which I don’t appreciate). So the solution is to hire a strong operations person who can bring the structure and discipline we need. That’s one of my rocks for this quarter: hire a strong operations person.
Now, monkeys are your ‘next steps’. Once you defined your rocks, you define the steps or actions to get this rock ‘done’. The monkeys are the first, most important steps for you to get moving. It’s advisable to define all the monkeys needed to get to your rock-completion. With that, you have a strong action plan and instead of thinking about what to do next throughout the quarter, you can just focus on ‘execution’ (which is the most important element of entrepreneurial work).
In the above example, my monkeys are finding candidates; to get there, I need to create a profile for the role I want to hire for; I then need to put that vacancy on a job board and start promoting it (or ask my team to do that); I need to screen CV’s (for which I could say, I want to screen 10 candidates per week, for example, to create SMART goals); then I need to do interviews (or multiple, involving some other team members); to keep overview, I need to add all the details of these candidates to our trello hiring board; I need to think of a salary package for this person; once we get to the hiring, I need to ask my colleague to create a contract and sign it; then I need to make an onboarding plan with the new hire. Etcetera. By defining this all upfront, I create a clear plan for the quarter.
So if you find yourself in a position thinking what to do to get started: define your priorities (and if you don’t know what priorities to set, work harder; if you still don’t know, ask for help from another experienced entrepreneur or find a mentor); then define all the monkeys to get there. Prepare, plan and then….ACT
- Just do it
This is maybe the most important advice to any entrepreneur: Just do it. Stop finding excuses. Stop working on things that don’t lead to where you want to go (Which may include working for a boss, spending hours in front of a TV, having dinners with friends who don’t help you get started every night). After you have defined your rocks and monkeys, you know what needs doing. So kick yourself in the butt and start moving!
Now, the most important thing is to take that first step. Even if it’s a tiny step, you must force yourself to do it. This means, for example, your first step could be to talk to some experienced entrepreneurs about your plan. Or to speak to 5 potential customers and ask them to provide feedback on your plan. No matter what, if that’s the things you defined, just pick up the phone, call or WhatsApp them and book a coffee meeting (it’s very easy to ask someone: hey Hugo, I’ve decided to start my own company; I have a plan that I would like to hear your feedback on, do you have time for a coffee tomorrow at 4? Most people like to help!).
- Never ever give up
Once you took that first step, you must not stop. You should never ever give up. Entrepreneurship is sometimes tough (although I also believe people exaggerate that notion sometimes). Entrepreneurs are 100% responsible for everything in their companies, especially in the first years. Any problem that pops up, needs to be solved by you. Until you hire strong people who can solve or prevent problems. But in the beginning, all the monkeys jump on your shoulder. And you need to be ready to do the hard work. Anything they throw at you, you just take it and deal with it. You are a problem solver. And you need to tackle them one by one. You solve one, the next one will pop up. And that never stops.
If you get discouraged by problems easily, you must train yourself to become more resilient. Problems are your challenges. Through challenges, you grow. Entrepreneurship is solving the pieces of the puzzle one by one in order to grow your company. The only way to succeed is by accepting that and just keep going. There is always another way to solve that challenge.
After 10 years running my first company Bridge, I got a breakdown. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had worked 10 years to grow my company to a big size and I was not getting there. My mentor had once told me that the ‘expiration date’ of an entrepreneur is 7 years. They say that everything moves in cycles of 7 years; relationships, economic ups, and downs. I didn’t’ listen to it and continued 3 more years. Those years wore me out. And at that point, I figured I had a couple of options: A. Sell my company; B. Close down; C. Ask the best guy in my team to become the CEO. I chose option C. With that, I also accepted that the worst thing that could happen was the company crashed (we entrepreneurs mistakenly tend to think that we are the only ones able to run companies!), ceased to exist or went bankrupt. I accepted that outcome. And since then worked closely with my new CEO to move the opposite way. I decided to spend only 2-4 hours a week on the company, while the CEO ran everything. And surprisingly, the turnover started growing, the profit increased substantially, I worked less and earned more. Options A and B above would have been ‘giving up’. I refused to do that and the outcomes are very positive.
So once you get started, whatever gets thrown at you, never ever give up. Keep going until you get where you want to be!
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