A few weeks ago, the Bristol University Base Camp team invited me to speak to them about ‘making it happen’; about how you go about starting a business and taking a product to market.
I boiled it down to eight points:
- Find the right problem
This is a problem that you can realistically solve; a problem that, as the Pragmatic Marketing folks say, is urgent and pervasive. This, in my experience, means that people are willing to pay to have it solved.When you think about how to go about solving that problem, it’s really important to think outside-in. By that I mean you need to think of it from the customer’s perspective at all times; the opposite is inside-out thinking whereby you only consider it from your point of view.There are a couple of tests I use to see whether you’re looking to solve the right problem: Firstly, people get it, it’s easy to explain and there’s a ‘oh yeah’ moment. Secondly, the idea doesn’t let go; you end up thinking about it day and night.
- Write it down
The act of writing things down is, in itself, a way of thinking an idea through, helping to shape it, as well as helping develop your commitment to taking that first step.I love using the Business Model Canvas to help do this. It’s collaborative, visual, flexible and iterative.Then write your business plan. It’s okay: it will be wrong and it will change, but using a structured approach helps you make sure that you’ve considered all aspects of the plan. I’m pretty sure it’s not fashionable to do this these days. That said, I’ve had a number of investors ask to read the full document and having a solid, polished and professional plan helped present the business in a very positive light.
- Decide where you’re going, then iterate
As much as Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People uses language that makes me cringe, there are some really valuable points in there. One of them is that you need to ‘start with the end in mind’. You need to be clear on your objectives and your goals before you start, otherwise you won’t know when you get there.Once you have done this, figure out the key performance indicators, measure them and change things when things don’t work out as planned. And it’s okay, things will go wrong.
- People people people
Any business or organisation is made by its people. So make sure you get your team right – your co-founder (and having someone there with you at the beginning really helps), the first employee, your board.And use people (in a nice way!). The power of your network should never be underestimated in helping you to get customers, to help get problems solved, to help you to find people to help…
- Get organised
Starting anything important means that there will be competing demands on your time all the time. So you need to find a system that works for you, that helps you structure what you need to do, and, above all, prioritise.I’ve found that this system is very personal and what works for me may not work for you.And once you’ve got the system, tool-up. Find the right tools/ applications/ things that help you work in the best way. My toolkit is:
- Excel: for me, the killer app on computers.
- Wunderlist: my prioritised and categorised to do list
- Freemind: helps me think, take notes in meetings and keep everything in one place
- Dropbox: backup, sharing documents, and everything on every device
- Evernote: for notes I take on the go that I need anywhere
- Slack: the YellowDog team is all over the place (geographically, that is). Slack keeps us together.
- iTunes: music helps me think, work and stay focused.
- Spend as little as possible
It may sound obvious but it’s important that you scrutinise the spend of every penny. This means that you may need to be creative to solve problems that larger organisations would solve by investing money. But then, this is half the fun…
- Find your way to decompress
What you’re about to start is going to be stressful. Which means you need to find a way to relieve the tension. For me, I’ve found a combination of spending time with my family and friends, doing exercise every day (I cycle) and volunteering help me prevent that stress building up.
- Take the first step
This is it, and it’s probably the hardest one.Take that first step – people want you to lead.