Baby Steps

Baby Steps By San Diego Shooter

Once upon a time @jevon wrote a vision on how to rebuild the startup scene in Canada (below). Its relatively amazing how spot-on Jevon proved to be in hindsight, and how much the Canadian eco-system moved in that direction – more smaller funds with a incubator/accelerator look and feel, and lots more community.

For instance, check out David’s post on the explosion of incubators in Incubators, Incubators Everywhere. 18 new ones!

But, anecdotaly, despite some great new sources of funding, we aren’t quite there yet. When I get asked about the latest, greatest startups in Toronto (here or abroad) I end up pointing at a lot of companies that are yesterday’s news, 1-2 year old companies now. Partly my fault as I need to get out and network a bit more, but regardless – we need more. More companies being founded. I know some great folks who are still sitting on their asses getting underpaid at their shit job full of bad office politics. Well the time is NOW. You gots to do what the late Michael Ignatieff told you to do – RISE UP:

Great – you are motivated. Watching Michael Ignatieff will do that to you. So now what? How do you approach the super early days of starting a company?

I’d like to pass on a framework that I picked up from founders I’ve worked with over the years. Its not quite as thorough as anything Steve Blank has written on the topic. But it also doesn’t need a 2 hour lecture and/or a $50 purchase of his (very good) book – Four Steps To the Epiphany.

Basically divide your idea into 4 big areas – product, people, market, financing. Each of these has a burden of proof for you to iteratively solve as the founder. You keep iterating, from baby steps, through to giant steps. Ta da – that is it, the whole framework in two sentences! Taking that framework, the below is how I’d start to tackle the first 90 days of my brand new idea.

The Baby Steps – Day 1 through 90

Things will feel messy, you won’t even have realized that you took the heroic step to do a startup. If you’re a coder, you’ll start hacking away at something new at night. If you are not, you’re probably talking to folks and sussing out how to get it done. The biggest goal here is taking the big emotional leap of “doing a startup”. You have to start telling people you are doing a startup, even if you haven’t quite left your current job. And you need to get yourself personally ready for the leap.

In the four areas I mentioned above, here is what you need to get done:

1. (Finance/Product/Market) Start putting a pitch deck together – principally put together three things:
-The Problem Statement: what is the problem you are trying to solve?
-The Customer: who has this problem and needs it solved?
-The Market Size: try and take an approximate guess at the size of the market you are chasing.

2. (Product) Start on a very raw prototype. For a web app I’d usually get the single core feature done + some lightweight graphic design. For hardware, I’d buy a MakerBot and get a 3D printing done. NOTE – if you are a not a technical co-founder, pay somebody to build the prototype. You don’t need to have a full engineering team in place to get a prototype built.

3. (Finance) Figure out if you need financing, how much financing you need to get to a certain stage ($50k to build a prototype, $400k to launch for instance), and then list who can finance this idea. Light manufacturing & SaaS web businesses are going to have very different funders. Figure out that list, do some deep digging and find out who the angels are for a given category.

4. (Finance) Get your personal financial situation under wraps. Most of your initial costs are going to be the cost of your own time, so make that time cheap. Also, make sure you have ample time. If you are getting married, renovating a house, planning to climb Everest… you probably shouldn’t do a startup.

5. (Market) Think about who your customer will be and talk to some of them. Email them a survey and get some quantative feedback. Hang out with them and ask them to use your newly awesome prototype (which probably sucks, but don’t worry, get them to use it anyways). Ask them how they solve “problem x” and get some qualitative feedback/notes.

6. (Market) Do some really quick tests of the idea in the market. This is called Minimum Viable Product. Setup a Google Adwords and a landing page website. See how much click through you get for a given idea/wording and see how many get to some sort of “commitment form”. You could go as far as letting folks sign up for beta access for your product.

7. (PEOPLE) THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE – network, network, network. Email anybody at startupnorth, we have good networks, especially David Crow, (@davidcrow). Go to every startup event possible in your area. If you live in Moose Jaw and there is no Startup Drinks event, create one. You may have to drink alone for a few weeks, but drinking alone is GREAT PRACTICE for your upcoming startup.

8. (People) From the above, you need to build a solid list of mentors, advisors and folks you can talk to about building your own business. Meet with them as often as you need.

This is the list. I’m not even telling you “go get a co-founder, go get $20k in funding, hire a great engineering team, etc”. No, start with baby steps. Get yourself motivated, get networked, prove to yourself that you can build something and meet influential people… these are the baby steps to get over the emotional hurdle.

Let us know what your first steps were and how you got your business going.

PS This note is doubly intended for all the RIM employees who just got laid off. Please go start something new, don’t join Manulife.

Single People Should NOT Do Startups

Last night, my 1 and half year old didn’t fall asleep sleep until 11pm (normal bed time = 7:30pm) and then woke up at 2am and screamed till 5am. He is cutting his eye teeth. On top of that I have worked 16 hour days almost the entire week, I am on heavy coding deadline(s) and working constantly with guys in Indonesia & China all night long. It sucks, I’m super sleep deprived. But. I will make it all happen and still be there for my family.

You see, there is this weird meme in the startup world that says “families” + “startups” don’t work. Dave McClure doesn’t help with his family life mocking “Don’t do a startup, you will fail”.

I, in fact, also got an up-close look at this “anti-family-ism” recently at a young startup office where the mid-20s founders insinuated that “you can’t have kids and a startup”. It drove me nuts (to the point that I felt obliged to write this article).

First off there is a whole range of great entrepreneurs locally here who have successfully done both. David Crow (@davidcrow), Tara Hunt (@missrogue), Shyam Sheth (@shyamsheth), Michael Garrity (@mgarrity), myself (@dpmorel) and many others manage this struggle. It is definitely difficult but it is do-able. I’m sure lots of them have good tips (like… work after your kids go to bed… also when single folks are out at the bar).

In fact, this week I am here in New York at the Peek office. We split our offices with another startup, who have several young single founders. My new theory is this – YOU SHOULD NOT BE SINGLE AND FOUNDING A COMPANY.


  • Startup founders are not sexy. They constantly look tired (and are constantly tired). Most entrepreneurs who have been in business for a few years have this disheveled, haggard look to them and wear the same clothes near every day (men and women alike). I have not had my hair cut in about 3 months and my sideburns may be a living creature. I am staring at a female founder in the office who has the classic entrepreneur red, weary eyes with giant bags under them.
  • Your mind will flick over to some business problem on a dime, which makes you a boring date, and you’ll have a hard time keeping relationships going.
  • You likely won’t have much time for other hobbies, so nobody will really be interested in you in the first place. “oh you work 18 hour days, yeah, very exciting”
  • Entrepreneurs are basically living Zombies. They have no emotions. You keep hitting them with stuff and they won’t stay down or react. They just get up mindlessly and keep going forward with arms out. They also maybe eat brainz.
  • When you have sex, you’ll probably get interrupted constantly by emergencies and “important people”
  • You can’t get drunk – you don’t sleep enough for your body to handle it properly, you don’t have time to drink that much, and you probably have an important meeting first thing in the morning. And we all know how hard it is to find a new mate without the social lubricant of drinking.

I could go on. But generally new relationships take so much time… you have to keep this veneer of your “perfect self” and do things for the other person all the time and spend time with them on weeknights. No, no, no… its an impossible work-life balance.

Startup relationships + startup jobs = NO.

It feels like its a lot easier to do a startup with a long standing relationship and understanding partner who will support you emotionally and mentally. Having kids adds to this – all your problems melt away and disappear as you chase your kids around or play some silly game, a wonderful reprieve from the constant stresses and to-dos of your under-resourced, over-leveraged business.

How about the rest of you? How do you find balancing your startup gig + your current life stage? Other family folks – I’d love to hear how you balance your busy family + busy job in the comments?

11 Lessons for Early Stage CEOs

Editor’s Note: Daniel Klass (LinkedIn, @klasscapital) is an experienced private equity investor having spent time at TD Capital and EdgeStone Capital Partners before raising his fund Klass Capital. Daniel and the team at Klass Capital focus on small to mid sized web-enabled businesses seeking to invest $500,000 to $5,000,000 of growth capital. While none of the entrepreneurs or CEOs are named in Daniel’s post, you can be assured some of these stories are direct lessons from portfolio companies like Firmex and Nulogy. You can follow Daniel on twitter @klasscapital and read his additional early-stage tips for entrepreneurs.

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Klass Capital’s 11 Lessons for Early Stage CEOs

  1. Don’t overbuild your product or build your product in a vacuum.
    We learned one of our best lessons from a CEO that told us that he was going to “sell the shit” out of his product and build a great product later. Five years later, the business does in excess of $30mm SaaS revenues. The best products are built with customers and not for customers.
  2. Understand your cost of customer acquisition.
    We often gravitate towards build an external sales team, spending money on expensive tradeshows and not understanding the cost and pay back of these initiatives. Our best in class online businesses all started out that way and have moved to an online and inside sales and marketing engine. The metric we live by is a ratio of life-time value of a customer to cost of acquiring the customer of no less than 3:1.
  3. Religiously measure your churn by cohort.
    Early stage CEOs are fixated on sales and do not fully understand monthly churn. Service, support and innovate. You will learn a lot from your customers and lowering churn will significantly reduce CAC. To truly understand your churn and see if you are making progress, start measuring churn by cohort. Once your company matures, churn should not exceed 10% and upselling existing customers should significantly eat into this churn.
  4. Too many CEOs rely on the success of channel partners.
    We rarely see channel partners work and at least from our perspective the risk and time commitment invested in these partnerships rarely makes sense.
  5. Raise more money than you need.
    The fund raising markets are not always open and raising capital is a distraction. Choose the right partner, the right structure and raise 1.5x-2x the capital you need. Build a strong advisory board that can help guide you through this process and use the board to lever off their relationships.
  6. Learn from your competitors, learn from your customers and don’t be defensive.
    Almost every portfolio Company we have has significantly evolved and only slightly resembles its initial existence.
  7. Define and redefine roles when looking for people.
    Hire managers who are player-coaches and not scared to roll up their sleeves.
  8. Build a financial plan that you can measure yourself against on a monthly basis.
    Record and measure your key metrics monthly. Constantly refine these metrics and keep your feet to the fire. For all our businesses we use monthly, if not weekly, flash reports. We measure everything from churn, usage, MRR, new customers, renewals, average revenue by customer, etc. Share these metrics with your advisors and make yourself accountable.
  9. Make sure that all your heated discussions with team members, board members, and advisors are constructive.
    Do not be defensive and take your time to respond. These discussions, even if you are correct, almost always result in a better outcome.
  10. Choose your target markets carefully.
    It’s easier to have customers with deep pockets and large markets. This will significantly increase your exit value.
  11. Build businesses where you can take advantage of the network effect. Lots of good things happen with scale. Best in class businesses find you to launch their products, data mining opportunities become available, and you gain domain expertise.

Editor’s Note: Daniel Klass (LinkedIn, @klasscapital) is an experienced private equity investor having spent time at TD Capital and EdgeStone Capital Partners before raising his fund Klass Capital. Daniel and the team at Klass Capital focus on small to mid sized web-enabled businesses seeking to invest $500,000 to $5,000,000 of growth capital. While none of the entrepreneurs or CEOs are named in Daniel’s post, you can be assured some of these stories are direct lessons from portfolio companies like Firmex and Nulogy. You can follow Daniel on twitter @klasscapital and read his additional early-stage tips for entrepreneurs.