Make a List, Check it Twice

Can you check off all the items on our list? If not, fine-tune your business skills with these insider tips from entrepreneurial guru Guy Kawasaki.

Guy Kawasaki is the legendary founder of Garage Technology Ventures, a VC firm in Silicon Valley, and the former chief evangelist of Apple Computer. He has founded two software companies and has helped more than 100 companies raise venture capital.

His current best-selling book, The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything , reflects his experience as an evangelist, entrepreneur, investment banker and venture capitalist. Given his expertise, we asked Kawasaki to provide you with the ultimate startup checklist.

This list is for entrepreneurs who want to avoid getting bogged down in theory and unnecessary details. My assumption is that your goal is to change the world--not study it. If your attitude is "Cut the crap and just tell me what I need to do," then this checklist is for you.

The Art of Starting

  • Do you make meaning? Great companies change the world by fighting the status quo, inertia and ignorance. They make people's lives better, fix the bad and perpetuate the good. Mediocre and unsuccessful companies start out only to make money. Here's the acid test: If your company never existed, would it matter to the world?
  • Do you have a company mantra? Forget a mission statement. Think mantra--three words, tops. What three words capture the essence of what you do and why you exist? Great example: Mary Kay's mantra is "Enriching women's lives."
  • Are you typing or prototyping? You're spending too much time with Excel, PowerPoint and Word. Prototype and prospect instead. Don't have the funds to do this? There's no magical solution for this Catch-22, but the lack of funds never prevents a true entrepreneur from starting.
  • Have you defined a business model that is credible, simple and specific? This is a question that the entire high-tech sector skipped during the dotcom days. The salient questions are: Who's got your money in his or her pocket? And how will you get it?

The Art of Positioning

  • Can you describe your product or service without using acronyms or jargon? If it takes five years of industry experience to begin to understand what you do, you've got a problem. Your parents should be able to explain your product or service. Your grandparents should be able to use it.
  • Are you occupying the high ground? Focus on what you can do for your customers, not on what your competition can't. Nobody buys anything to help a company kill its competition, so resist the temptation to trash other companies.
  • Are you seizing a niche for your product or service? The ultimate business position is to provide a unique product or service that customers really need. This is called filling a niche. You can be unique in terms of features, service, pricing or location, but don't try to be all things to all people.
  • Does your positioning pass the "opposite test"? You claim your product is fast, secure and easy to use. Does the competition say its product is slow, dangerous and hard to use? If not, your positioning will only work in a vacuum--and a vacuum, no pun intended, sucks.
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Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.

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This article was originally published in the February 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Make a List, Check it Twice.

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