Hello! Have You Had Your Woody Allen moments yet?
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This article is less about the usual like the product-market fit, paying customer, investor priorities etc but is more about what goes on in your head. It is also not about your financial readiness, but it is more about finding the mojo (in your head) to sustain your journey.
Taking The Plunge
You have probably discussed your idea with a closed group of friends/peers and they seem excited to buy its potential. Additionally, you would have informal conversations with potential buyers/investors and look at their willingness for financial partnership.
Assuming the business rationale falls into place, it is important you be your own psychologist while you analyse your decision to start-up. Key questions to ask yourself at this stage are –
What do I want to achieve by being an entrepreneur?
How long will it take for me to achieve those goals?
Will I lose steam after reaching my destination?
What skills do I bring to the table?
What skills are the founding-team bringing together to the venture?
What are our key skill gaps?
Can we get these skills from the market?
Do we bring less to the table as a founding team than what we need to pull off this idea?
Why do we still believe we will win?
You should also know these answers for your co-founders. Co-founder conflict is a key reason for start-up failure, this usually stems from working styles, resentment etc. Do not take a decision to start-up unless you have convincing answers for yourself to all these questions. By going through this checklist, you will save yourself and your partners from a lot of grief a few years down the road.
How to Have Fun During This Phase?
Be curious about the problem being solved and enjoy every conversation or article that educates you about the context
Be excited about discussing your learnings with your co-founders and mentors to get their views
Derive your “kick” from conversations with buyers and investors and the access (along with freedom) your solution provides you beyond your job
Attend industry events to learn about the latest trends and solutions
Go-out often with your co-founders and know if like hanging out with each other
Be aware of how much your mind has opened to new possibilities. This realisation is simply awesome!
Sustaining the Plunge
At this stage, you have usually registered your company and are either boot-strapping, getting your initial customers or raising venture funding. This is the time you will have serious buying conversations with prospects and it is now time for people to start putting money on the table. Critical points for introspection for yourself at this stage are –
Are buyers and investors serious or are they simply being polite to you?
Are we enforcing our biases to force-fit market feedback to suit our goals?
Do we know what we need to do to close out the sale or secure investment?
Does our operating model seem logical or do we need to pivot?
Is the need real and urgent for customers or have we created a need to force-fit our product?
Are we listening, capturing feedback and improving our solution?
Have we prioritised non-critical tasks just because they are easier to do?
Are we just inventing work to keep ourselves busy?
How good are the energy levels and motivation levels of the founding team?
Do people feeling de-motivated have a valid point?
It is important at this stage to be positive, but not foolish. Let me explain, each person handles feedback differently, it is important to not be dragged down by one negative comment, but if a large section of feedback has been negative, it is important that the founding team have a clear fact-based discussion. Emotions are good to derive your energy from but should not creep into your decision-making process.
Take a fact-based call on the longevity of your start-up. Cut the cord fast, if it isn’t working out or if you do not know how to make it work. Delaying the inevitable is not helping anyone, there are better things you can do with your time!
How to Have Fun During this Phase?
Talk to other founders and learn from their experiences. Founders love talking to other founders!
Set yourself professional goals and celebrate with your team as you achieve them
Enjoy social outings with your team and listen intently to the feedback they provide
Soak in the feeling of being responsible for so many livelihoods and the positive impact you could have on all their lives
Find yourself a physical activity beyond work – this could be working out, dancing, swimming etc. This helps to burn all the nervous/pent-up energy
Set yourself goals on your personal front and be amazed at your achievements
Maximizing the Plunge
Congratulations, you have now been in business for some time now. It means that you have a running business, more stable operations and better predictability. This is where your founding team will meet your biggest nemesis – YOURSELVES.
Nothing stirs co-founder conflict like inflated egos. If anyone in your team starts believing that the company runs because of them or that other members do not bring enough to the table, that is the beginning of your end. This is also the time when you typically would have some money in the pot that needs to be shared, here it is KEY to remember that bigger pots are always better. Start-ups are always about the value of your equity, unlike employment it is not about the salary that you draw this month.
Your Inner Woody Allen Should Ideally Have Answers to These Questions –
What can we do today to make this day valuable?
Are we still pushing the envelope or are simply floating along too soon?
Am I or my co-founders overvaluing what we bring to the table?
What are the driving factors for overvaluing? Point out the flaws in logic, if any and have candid discussions
What could be the size of the pot if we run this business for 5 years?
What do we need to do to sustain maximize the value of our equity?
Are there partnerships that we can forge to maximize our equity value or accelerate our growth?
After you have honest answers for yourself, have a candid discussion with your co-founding team members. Remember you guys are the best employees you can find for your start-up, commit to doing whatever it takes to sustain your cohesion for the next 5 years.
How to Have FUN During this Phase?
Continue meeting and learning from other founders and events
Enjoy the high of sharing your wisdom and being heard in the right forums. Don’t make it monotonous – think about the value to bring to your audience
Find energy in forging sales and partnerships that could take your dream to the next level while adding value to your partners
Enjoy the process of seeing your team work towards delivering your shared dream and encouraging them
Give back, start mentoring other start-up founders
Remember, if you can dream it, the more likely you are to achieve it. Be a dreamer, let your dreams excite you, but ultimately let your inner Woody Allen guide you.