On Starting Up and Getting Help

What do you do when you have a great idea and the determination to see it through, but lack the detail-orientedness that is crucial to mitigating early stage business risk?

You get help!

While this blog will mostly feature advice around connection in its various forms, I thought I’d also share my entrepreneurial journey. Being the non-technical founder of a tech startup has MANY challenges, setbacks, and frustrations. Doesn’t mean that it’s not a path worth pursuing, but entering into it with realistic expectations may ease your journey that much more.

I’m one of those big picture thinkers who couldn’t be hyper-detailed to save my life. As an early stage company, it’s imperative that we thoroughly understand the market our business is in. But no matter how much you think you know, having a fresh, objective pair of eyes on your work is critical.

“Sometimes, as innovators, you become so fixated on your idea that you lose sight of creative solutions or pass on markets you never considered,” says Chelsea Merkel, CEO of Fourth River Solutions a student driven, non-profit consulting organization based in Pittsburgh, PA. “The great thing about hiring an outside group is that they can help expand your horizons and see possibilities, and drawbacks, that you might have missed.”

Launching a social networking company, no matter the niche is incredibly challenging. Acquiring a critical mass of users and the strategies to hit those goals, requires a deep understanding of your customers, where they are, what matters most to them, how they’re currently solving their problems and how to inspire them to try your solution.

“One way to refine your value proposition is to use your market research to develop questions for customer discovery,” Merkey says. “Talking to customers to figure out what is really important to them is crucial.”

When I was contemplating getting help, I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to bring on another equity holder or just do the work myself. I’ve had experiences in the past where I’ve added help that ended up being more detrimental to our growth, so I was understandably pretty gun shy when it came to hiring someone I don’t know for a position when I didn’t have 100% clarity on my needs.

After a chance encounter with one of the researchers at Fourth River at a startup event here in Pittsburgh, and weighing the pros and cons, I instead chose to work with an external firm who could provide the sounding board I needed, without bringing on a new team member before we were quite ready for them.

My experiences working with a consultant, especially as a solo founder were incredibly helpful in that they forced me to think versus relying on what I think I already know to be true. There was a lot of back-and-forth communication. We really worked together to fine tune both my needs and the desired outcome.

While I guided them in the right direction from the extensive research I’d already done, they took that initial information, dug even deeper, and most importantly, helped us find laser focus.

“When thinking of your product or idea, it is important that you clearly and concisely define the value you bring to the market: what problem are you addressing and how are you uniquely positioned to fix it,” says Merkel.

As a generally, less than organized person, the team helped me organize my thoughts into a coherent slide deck. The great thing was, the entire process was split up into smaller sections that allowed us to refine both the market analysis and think critically about our business model. This allowed us to focus and make sure we found the metrics necessary to determine business and revenue model assumptions that were actually useful.

Overall I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Working with an external consultant would have never been my initial idea, but I’m so glad that when the opportunity presented itself, we took it.

**Full disclosure, Fourth River Solutions helped me fine tune the market research aspects of Oona. You can only read the same data so many times before confirmation bias comes into play. To learn more about Fourth River and how they can help elevate your business idea, please check them out here: http://www.fourthriversolutions.org/