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.