Before Launching a Business, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions
Q: I have a startup idea…but how do I know whether it’s worth my time to pursue — Nia, Chicago
That’s a very important question. In fact, it might be the most important question — and many entrepreneurs bypass it on the road to independence. We’re so excited by our 2 a.m. epiphany that we don’t want to know the answer. We fear that this is our one and only shot, and that another great idea may never come. But if you skip this self-audit, you may face massive consequences for years to come.
The consequence is this: opportunity cost.
When starting a new endeavor, we focus so much on what we might gain that we overlook what else we might have done. Despite all the deification of entrepreneurs and the glorification of the hustle culture, building a business is really hard. It is a long, painful, lonely slog. It is not a flip. You are enlisting to serve in a war that will take five years to arrive on high ground. Five years to even catch your breath and maybe have a full night of sleep. Is this how you want to devote these years — instead of to another, perhaps wiser path?
To know the answer, begin by asking yourself these five questions:
1. Is my idea a stand-alone business or just a feature?
I’ve made some of my worst professional mistakes by becoming enamored with my clever idea and never bothering to ask myself this critical question. The reality is, most great ideas are still great — they are just not businesses. They are enhancements.
2. Am I running away from something or toward something?
The worst decisions are fueled by escapism. Make sure you are pursuing a way forward, not a way out. Once the crisis abates, you may be left doing something that doesn’t inspire you in peaceful times.
3. Is this a solution in search of a problem?
You can present a solution that nobody knew they wanted (see the iPod), but you will never convince people to buy a solution to a problem they don’t think they have (see Google Glass).
4. Are there enough people willing to pay me for my solution to make this business big enough to at least satisfy my basic needs?
Yes, it’s a business, but if it can’t feed your family and pay for a vacation to Disney World one day, what’s the point? They don’t give out medals — or distributions — for trying.
Related: Are You Productive, or Just Busy?
5. Will this sustain my attention during the dark times, when my star employee quits (or my toxic employee won’t)?
Imagine the world going to hell all at once. (For helpful precedent, see 2020.) Now ask yourself, against this backdrop, and endless nights of sleep deprivation, Will I get up in the morning and say, “This is still worth it”?
As you ask yourself those five questions, remember this: The real challenge when launching a business is not just forecasting your opportunity cost today but fully considering your future evolved self. The question is not What am I capable of doing right now? but What am I capable of doing five years from now? What is the best version of myself capable of doing, not the person staring back at me in the mirror? These are abstract questions, to be sure, but important ones — because you’re not just making a decision about what to do now. You’re betting on your future.