[5] The First 30 Days of Starting a Company – Advice from the Pros

We’ve talked about the mental preparation required to become an entrepreneur and the financial considerations you’ll want to make before starting a company.  Today, we want to touch on some of the critical areas you’ll need to focus on in the first 30 days of starting your new business.

This is a time when you’ll be making major decisions, which can be thrilling but also intimidating. How do you know what decisions to make?  What to focus on?  If your product or service will be successful?

To get some expert advice, we asked a number of successful entrepreneurs and investors about their views on the most important things an entrepreneur should tackle in the first 30 days. Ryan Allis, Rand Fishkin and Kevin O’Leary underscored the importance of the careful balance between action and reflection — of going out in the world and testing your ideas, but also taking the time to step back, sift through the data and make sense of it all.

Ryan AllisIn the first 30 days of starting a bootstrapped company, the most important thing to do is test your hypothesis around how you will make money with customers using rapid prototyping techniques.

Ryan Allis, co-founder and CEO of iContact (sold to Vocus for $169 million in 2012)

Rapid Prototyping is essentially a way of learning by experimenting. Instead of thinking through the details of your product, service, messaging, or even your business model, the idea is to get a rough version off the ground that you can test in the real world.

Tom Chi, the man who brought you Google Glass and a speaker and mentor at Allis’ Hive Network, is something of a legend in rapid-prototyping, which makes him a fascinating person to learn from. In a TEDEd talk, Chi shared the story of Google Glass. He started by asking the audience how long they thought it took to put together the first prototypes of Google Glass. The responses ranged from weeks to even years.

The reality? The first prototype took one day to put together. To get Minority Report style functionality, where the user could move his or her hands to generate a mouse-click, the team spent 45 minutes.

Keep in mind that these were far from final products. Chi used tools like wire, clay, chopsticks, and hairbands. But through these rough approximations of the Google Glass concept, Chi and his team made several important discoveries and conclusions (for example, the realization that Minority Report hand-waving wouldn’t be practical in the real world).

As Chi put it, “doing is the best kind of thinking.” We have a tendency to want to plan everything to perfection, but the reality is that it’s very difficult and sometimes even impossible to know what will work ahead of time. Even a rudimentary version of your product or service will offer you more feedback than an extended thought experiment ever could — especially once you start showing it to potential customers.

The same idea of “thinking by doing” could be applied to any number of areas in your business. In order to know if something works — whether it’s the way you describe the benefits of your service, the usefulness of different product features, or the appropriate target market — make a start by putting your first prototype together. For example, write a pitch and give it to anyone who will listen. See how they react, tweak your responses, and go from there.

It sounds simple, but it requires a commitment to implementing this kind of scientific method into every part of your business. Everything you do can probably be done better; all that’s required is an initial version to work from.

Rand FishkinDetermine that the product/service you’re creating is something your audience is passionate about and will share/evangelize – if those two things aren’t true, your company will struggle mightily.

Rand Fishkin, co-founder and Wizard of Moz

Are your customers truly excited about what you provide them? If you’re in a B2B environment you might not have a breathless Instagram following, but you can still very well have a happy, connected, and satisfied client base. Getting that passion and evangelism requires two things: a product or service that solves a problem or meets a need (see above) and a way of delivering it that reduces headaches, makes life easier, or otherwise surprises or satisfies.

The Moz blog is a great resource for everything related to digital marketing, but aside from their facility with metrics the Moz bloggers focus relentlessly on community. You won’t have passionate customers who are excited to share your product or service unless they feel like part of something.

For Moz, community is built by adding value. Value isn’t more information about your business or about the services you provide; it’s the act of providing information, entertainment, or insights that are interesting for your customers.

Episode 8 guest James Costa put it this way: “Every person that I speak with every person that I get to interact with in a day I want to give them my full attention… give them some value from the relationship in some way.” Sometimes it turns into business and sometimes it doesn’t, but for Costa putting out that kind of good energy, as he says, will always come back in a positive way.

There are, of course, metrics you can use to measure customer satisfaction and a willingness to promote your brand, such as a Net Promoter Score.  There’s mixed evidence that these metrics are conclusive, but on a certain level they don’t need to be your focus: If you put out value and think of your customers as part of a community which you contribute to, you’ll be more attuned to what your customers need and how you can better serve them in the future.

Kevin O'LearyIn 60 seconds or less, be able to articulate the mission of your business and explain what problem your company’s product or service solves and why it’s worth paying for. If you can’t do this you have a 100% probability of failure.

Kevin O’Leary, O’Leary Financial Group and Shark Tank investor

The Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary has important advice: be able to explain what it is that you’re doing and why. Prototypes and great service are important, but so is the ability to explain the key differentiators of your business to potential clients, advisors, or contacts.

If you can’t easily explain the value that you bring, then it’s possible that it’s either unclear or confusing even to you. This is a common problem: a lot of businesses try to serve every customer that they can, but the result can sometimes be a host of non-complementary and costly offerings without a clear direction or mission. Over time, this kind of muddled approach can cost you through too many non-scalable activities or too few truly profitable clients.

Our recent podcast guests Eric Green and Dennis Sarafa had a great story about this issue. Before it became reach | influence, the company then known as Market Basket Rewards was faltering. The team realized that they lacked information about what their customers wanted and how they could help.

Going to the drawing board of products and services, Eric and Dennis figured out that they were offering nearly 50 different services. It was too many, and explaining them all — not to mention delivering them all — was too confusing. The first step of their successful strategic pivot was in answering the question, “What are the services we can provide for all of our clients?”

A set of five services stood out and from there a clear-cut mission statement could follow.

While there are a lot of decisions to make when starting a company, and a long list vying for your attention, being able to quickly articulate your value proposition, rapidly testing your hypothesis and building a loyal and passionate following are all things you can’t go without for long term viability.