10 things I’ve learnt helping 250 people start businesses in 2015

Some of the startup tribe at Escape the City

2015 has been a good year for honing the startup trade. For me, it began in Bali where I led an adventurous group of digital nomads through a startup of our own: Tribewanted based out of the most famous co-working space in Asia, Hubud.

In April, I returned to London where I spent the rest of the year working with two enterprising communities:

Virgin Startup — a non-profit arm of Virgin has now advised, mentored and financed over 800 founders’ ideas.

Escape the City — on a mission to help 1 million people escape into fulfilling work. Many people who are stuck aspire to explore the world of entrepreneurship. We’ve now run 4 startup tribes (50 people x 3 months) that give a rapid, hands-on apprenticeship into the world of startups and push them to get an idea out into the world fast and cheaply.

Regardless of community (or continent) the lessons have been consistent. Here are the ones that have come up the most. I wish I’d learnt these 10 years ago when I began my startup journey!

Please let me know what you would add/refine.

  1. Starting small is really hard to put into practise

This approach makes sense in theory but time and again people struggle not to be perfectionists. I think its because our ego, emotions, hopes and dreams are often intertwined with our idea.

Solution? Work with someone else on a ‘side hustle’ — something you haven’t been thinking about for a long time. Just do it. The less you care about it succeeding the more chance it often will.

We tested this in October and launched 5 revenue generating startups in 3 days.

2. Pessimistic sales forecasts are smart

I ask in workshops for people to put their hand up if they’ve ever beaten their own forecasts. Many raise their hand, but when I dig deeper I usually find that 9/10 have achieved this within a team or bigger organisation but not for themselves.

Solution? Work out your expected forecast by testing your idea (via an MVP ideally through sales/pre-sales) and then slash by 25–50%. If the plan is still validated you’re in a great position to succeed.

3. Figuring out your ‘good idea’ criteria is a priority before you start

These are your core motivations. Why are you doing this?

To build a rocketship? Ok great, strap in, get ready to lose/borrow/raise a lot of money and time before you have any chance of getting a return or making a big dent.

Or maybe you’re building a lifestyle business? Nice, so don’t open a shop that you have to run 7 days a week.

Or perhaps you need a financially reliable business quickly? Good, then make sure the business model is built to deliver that.

Whatever your motivations, make sure it’s clear before you start building something you might regret!

4. People close to you will lie about what they think of your idea

This is articulated best by Rob Fitzpatrick’s ‘Mom Test’ — the concept that if you ask your Mum if they like you’re idea, she will lie to you by saying ‘it’s amazing’ or ‘don’t do it’. Neither is helpful, both are lies — your Mum doesn’t know whether your idea will succeed or not.

Solution? Keep loved ones on-board for emotional support but not for validating ideas!

5. On their own, ideas are worthless

This is almost the opposite of the TV entrepreneur mindset.

It is the execution of ideas, not the ideas themselves that have real value.

I’ve heard over 250 pitches this year and the emphasis is far too often on the uniqueness of the idea and not on why there is a problem and what they are going to do about it.

Before Uber there were a lot of attempts to build Uber. Before Airbnb there were a lot of attempts to build Airbnb. It’s what happens after the idea that matters.

6. Lack of time is not a barrier

Over and over again I’ve seen people with less time do more. A deadline is the mother of all motivators and it is really amazing to see the less time = more productivity equation regularly ring true.

If you have lots of time, great — just create more deadlines so you squeeze in the action. That's why crowdfunding works so well.

7. Nailing your value proposition early really helps

Simple. If you can’t communicate your idea early on then no one will join in. What is the problem you want to solve, for who and how? That’s it. Get it right before you invest time and money.

8. Sharing your ideas and startup journey builds trust and attention

A lot of people are still uncomfortable with the notion of sharing their precious idea with strangers. Increasingly I think this is crazy.

The biggest success stories I’ve seen this year have been from the over-sharers. People who ‘pay-it-forward’ by helping others with ideas and time, benefit.

It’s also a great marketing strategy. Buffer do this brilliantly.

9. Dating a co-founder is something everyone should try

Many people resist working with someone on their idea because they don’t want to share equity. Fair enough…but 100% of nothing is nothing Vs 50% of something is a lot more.

I think everyone should experiment, even on a ‘side-hustle’ by working with someone. It won’t always work out — so it should be treated like dating and vesting should be a key consideration.

10. Mindsets shift most quickly through community experiences

For me, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest lesson of them all.

Very simply, when you’re part of a wider group of people who are supportive, with shared values and similarly motivated, you can move so much faster.

I love the fact that trends like coworking, digital nomads, startup communities and tribes are growing at speed. The future entrepreneur is a team player not a lone wolf. Jump in.

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I’ve tried to put what I’ve learnt this year into practice myself at Rebel Book Club.

I look forward to crossing-startup paths with you in 2016.

If you’d like to connect, twitter is best.