As I drove to high school, I used to pass a church with a large sign on its front lawn. Each day, that sign featured a new philosophical or inspirational quote. Often running late, I paid little attention to the sign and its words of fortune-cookie wisdom (140 characters before it was cool!), and I honestly can't recall more than three quotes every listed. However, there's one that has stuck with me over the years:
"If you stop to think, don't stay parked."
Having been involved with startups for quite some time now, I've had the privilege of speaking with a number of aspiring entrepreneurs about their ideas. After listening to their pitch, I usually ask why they haven't started developing the idea further. Their answer often falls into one or more of the following four categories:
- They haven't had enough time
- They don't have enough experience
- They don't have enough money
- They haven't finished developing their idea just yet
I used to be the same way -- waiting until all signs said go before I launched my venture. That was until I learned a valuable lesson:
If you're waiting for the stars to align and the "ah-ha" moment to arrive when everything is perfectly in place to launch your company, keep waiting...because it is never going to come.
I have yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who hasn't hit roadblocks in not one, but probably all of the four areas I mentioned above. And frankly, if what I am saying is true, I never will either.
In a startup, resources are quite limited and you need to make do with what you have. Sara Sarasvathy, a professor at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business says:
"Entrepreneurs by definition are brilliant problem solvers under conditions of extreme uncertainty and limited resources. They are able to work with the resources given to them and create something awesome."
So just get started. Strip your idea down to the underlying problem it is trying to solve, get rid of all the bells and whistles, gather up your resources and start testing your assumptions.
Testing Your Model While Building a Business
Take for example a dorm room cleaning company I launched a few years back. My co-founder and I didn't have the capital to hire a crew to service the dorms. Instead of putting our idea on hold until we could save up enough capital to hire people, we decided to just move forward by leveraging the resources we had.
We contracted out all the work to a local D.C. cleaning company. It required no upfront investment and was a great way to test the demand for the service without having to invest thousands to hire a crew. There are a number of great resources available that will allow you to do the same.
If you have a service-based business, reduce risk by subcontracting the labor. Setup a network of contractors who will work on an hourly basis to service any requests that may come in. While the cost per hour may be high, it is a great way to test demand without having to hire a full-time staff. Use sites such as Upwork and TaskRabbit to find talent.
If your business is based on a technical product, figure out a way to cobble together off-the-shelf products instead of building custom software. For example, use Stripe Checkout to process payments, use Squarespace to build a website, use Square for customer management and scheduling appointments, and Shopify to grow your e-commerce business.
Was contracting out the work our long-term business strategy? At the time, we had no idea. But that didn't matter. We were problem-solving and testing our assumptions even though our resources and capital were quite limited.
We figured out that we should never hire a full-time crew because of the seasonality of the business. Students are actually only in class for a total of about six months of the year. We also discovered the business model was more scalable when we contracted out the work rather than hiring a full-time crew. We were able to validate our assumption that there was a need for a dorm room cleaning service without risking thousands to test our hypothesis.
As you continue formulating your idea for your startup, ask yourself one follow-up question:
What are you waiting for? Put the car in drive and get going.