America is in the midst of an entrepreneurial renaissance. Incubators are popping up everywhere, investors are coming out of the woodwork. America, pat yourself on the back! Life-long corporate employees are quitting their jobs to strike out on their own. People are starting businesses with the potential to bring countless benefits that no one can predict, assuming of course, the startup survives the transition to a thriving business. The process is not what it looks like.
A quick metaphor. A yoga instructor recently told me something interesting. People watch the teacher do a pose, then try the pose themselves, and almost never succeed, no matter how hard they work. “You can’t learn yoga by watching,'' he told me. "Seeing somebody do it won't tell you the process for doing it. Learn the step-by-step, the small adjustments and avoidable mistakes everyone makes, and next thing you know you're standing on your head.’’
Related: Survive the Small-to-Big Transition
The same is true for startups. Watching and reading about prolific entrepreneurs is worthwhile but, paradoxically, can lead to four mistaken assumptions that make it hard for startups to just start.
1. A Startup Isn't a Business. A startup is the search for the business model, while a business is the implementation of a known model. There is a huge difference. When you’re just starting, practically everything about your startup - pricing, distribution, target market, revenue streams - is all guesswork. Your launch is the first of many tests that will answer the big questions about your startup. The tests yield data that will lead you to tweak your model until it works smoothly and sustainably.
Once you have proven that you know how to deliver your product to people who love it, and you have a replicable mechanism for growth, you’ve reached the crucial stage of product/market fit. Then write all the business plans all you want. If you follow this methodology your product will evolve from your original vision to mirror the market’s needs, not yours.
2. Don't pitch investors before your pitch is irresistable. If all you have is an idea, a “business plan,” your best friend and maybe a wireframe or prototype, you have too little to interest a sophisticated investor. Gamblers sink money into pre-traction startups, investors don’t.
Raise money from friends and family if you must, don’t raise it at all if you can get by, but don’t pitch investors before you are ready. Launch early with a smaller version of your product. Build that product with people motivated by equity. Drip it to them slowly so you don’t give it up all-at-once to someone who could turn out an incorrect fit. Tweak the offering until it fits. Then you’re investable. Sell your story to angel investors who can help you scale the small, but proven, feature-set.
3. Walk the walk, then talk the talk. Pop quiz! Which of the following will make your startup a real business?
a. Attending every single networking event in a 20-mile radius.
b. Adding so many stickers to your laptop that a bullet proof coating forms.
c. Referring to yourself as a “ninja’’ on LinkedIn.
d. Living out every possible stereotype you see on HBO's “Silicon Valley.”
Yeah, none of the above will make your startup thrive but actually building a startup does. Systematically test your ideas in a real marketplace with real customers. Anything more than a simple first offering will make it too difficult to just start.
4. “Striving for perfection” is not launching. Launch early. Launch fast. Accept that bugs and imperfections will happen. You will not always know immediately how to fix them. Stop organizing focus groups. Burn your surveys. Just launch already. You will learn more about running a startup in the first two weeks after launch than most MBA program teach in two years.
Don’t be scared of the ramifications.. Every startup begins with too few customers. Stop worrying about embarrassing yourself to the early few because their feedback, even negative, is the map to becoming a real business.
Related: Biggest Startup Mistakes to Avoid