“I have this idea for an app or website…”
I’ve heard this sentence hundreds of times. I’ve heard it at family gatherings, in Ubers, at bars, at sporting events, on airplanes, in bathrooms, at climbing walls, in Facebook messages, and pretty much everywhere that I’ve been.
I know how it feels to say those words and share your idea with another person. I remember how difficult it can be to open up about the idea you’ve been nurturing in your head. It’s scary. I listen carefully.
After a little back and forth about the idea or industry that the person has just expressed interest in, I almost always ask the question: “so why don’t you give it a try?”
I’ve heard a lot of excuses — only one or two of them are legitimate reasons to hold off. Similarly, I’ve heard a lot of side-project stage or young startups derail completely by some stupid stuff.
The purpose of this post is to offer a response to the objections (and constraints) that I’ve heard.
“Somebody else is (kind of) doing it already.” That’s not a reason to give up, that’s validation that you’re talking about a real problem that demands a real solution. Don’t wave the white flag and assume that these other groups are the ones who will pull it off — the idea isn’t what will lead to success. You don’t have to be first to market to win. If you’re looking for proof, look no further than Google, Amazon, and Facebook.
Related: “No one is doing this.” You’re probably wrong but don’t let that stop you.
“X thinks it’s a bad idea.” X can be a friend, a family member, a company who thought about dabbling in the space, an Uber passenger, your mom, Mark Cuban, whoever. Entrepreneurship demands a high tolerance for rejection — don’t let this stop you. I hate to think of the great ideas the world has been robbed of because someone received a little pushback in the idea stage. “The loudest boos always come from the cheap seats.”
Even if 99% of the population thinks your idea/project/company is dumb, you still have an addressable market. Not every startup needs to be a billion dollar/user opportunity — there is a ton of opportunity short of that.
“I don’t have a developer.” Find one. Developers are known to work on side-projects — they typically find side-projects to be a fun diversion from their day-to-day, even if they work at a fun startup. You aren’t stuck with one simple form of compensation, either. I’ve known developers who have compensation in the form of equity, revenue-share, cash, and car washes. Just ask.
Even if you don’t have someone in your network to lean on, there are plenty of services who can set you up with a talented developer. The completion of an operational product with a domestic developer generally costs between $5,000–10,000. Your milage will vary and while this is a notable amount of money, you do not need to raise a million dollars to get a product made.
“I don’t have a team.” In most cases, you don’t need a team in the beginning. Most believe that two co-founders is the right number, one to look out for each of the major responsibilities. This has proved true in my experience at benja and snip.ninja where we needed one business person and one technical person. If one person tries to handle both responsibilities, both tasks tend to suffer. If 4+ people try to split responsibilities, you typically find that there are too many cooks in the kitchen and ego gets in the way.
Another note: the longer you can put off hiring, the better. Stay as lean as possible for as long as possible, and don’t confuse stress (or a busy week) with a need to hire.
“I’m not sure how to make money.” Facebook earned $18 billion in revenue last year after starting as a website for (broke) college students. There’s always a way.
Remember that the industry-standard isn’t the final answer. Don’t default to advertising revenue. Get creative. Start asking yourself “how do they make money” about every business you interact with for a week — map out their expenses, what kind of volume they must do to pay the bills, etc. It won’t take long to find inspiration.
“I have a job.” You can start small, on nights and weekends. Entrepreneurship is demanding but not always — you should be able to manage it part-time for awhile. The longer you can keep a regular job and salary, the longer you can put off fundraising and that sort of thing. There’s no shame in being a part-time founder while you sniff out market validation.
“We don’t know what to call it.” Who cares? As long as you don’t call it Isis, you’ll be fine. Bonus points if people can pronounce/spell it but that isn’t always necessary. Google was a weird one (and a typo, initially) that has become an everyday word (and verb).
“But I live in (somewhere that isn’t San Francisco/New York/Boston/Austin).” That doesn’t matter. Most small/mid-sized cities have a startup ecosystem of some kind. I’ve had great experiences with the VegasTechFund in Las Vegas, Arch Grants in St. Louis, and Blue Startups in Honolulu. At the very least, you can find meet-up groups in your area.
Even if you live in the woods, hundreds of miles from the nearest stoplight, an internet connection means that you have what it takes to start something.
“I don’t know where to start.” Working through how to do these things is stressful — it’s also a huge (and rewarding) part of the fun. Whether you’re stuck or just want to talk shop, reach out to a startup that you admire and ask for 15 minutes. Founders, in general, are a group that are eager to help — we’ve all been where you’ve been and we remember what it was like. Most will do their best to help.