Challenges and misconceptions when starting up

Plamen Balkanski
Oct 10, 2017 · 5 min read

A few years ago, when Richard Allen and I were starting LeaveWizard, we faced a lot of uncertainty and tried to answer difficult questions like “Can we build a business while growing happy families?” or “What if someone steals our idea?” or “How do we know if we are going in the right direction?”. On top of that, like every other entrepreneur, we had to navigate through many misconceptions as presented to us by the press and Hollywood’s movies. We learned some valuable lessons that I wanted to share.

The 3 business personalities

This is a true story. We had what some refer to as the “entrepreneurial seizure”. We got excited by the idea. We went ahead and we built a product. And it was a thing of beauty! Except that not many people agreed with us. And now on top of having to build more features (or so we thought!) and solve conversion rate issues, we also had customers. Real living and breathing people who expected us to solve their problems, help them get started and by the way, be nice with them while doing so!

What???! We were just a couple of techies!!

When reality finally hit us, we realised that we needed help. But we had no money or anything else of value and that’s how we discovered our “manager” personalities. We then set up basic processes for on-boarding, off-boarding, support, security, data retention and many others. At this point we mainly enjoyed all the learning without having the concept of the three business personalities.

The realisation that we lacked sufficient understanding came a little later and only after reading The E-Myth book by Michael E. Gerber (thanks Thomas M!). We learned that the “enterprenuer” personality was important to get us going, the “technician” personality drove us to build our product and the “manager” personality helps us build a business. Most people will find that one of these personalities is dominating at different points in time and so it is important to grasp that you would need all three if you want to build a business.

So can we build a business while growing happy families?

We think the answer to this question is a resounding yes. In fact we never considered a different answer. It was a compromise we were not willing to make. It was a simple and mutual decision at the start of our journey that our families always come first. So in a typical entrepreneurial fashion we ignored the advice and cracked on with it the way we thought is best. Why should this even be a question?

The trouble is that we are non-stop bombarded with sensational stories, often exaggerated by the media organisations to a point where those stories hardly resemble the reality. We keep hearing tales of distant acquantancies who have started a business, risking their lives, houses, and families. The ones who nearly starved to death and somehow in the end pulled it off; either found clients or got funded by whatever miracle happened to bestow upon them.

Some of these stories might well be the truth, I certainly cannot guarantee they are not. But there’re also many stories in which perfectly normal people, leading perfectly normal lives, did not lose their families, did not bet their houses and did not have to almost starve to death and still managed to build business models that work. Shame these stories rarely (if ever) make the news. They are however the norm (see blogpost by Josh Pigford). The ones that make the news are the exception.

What if someone steals our idea?

We got over this one real quick. First of all there already were many systems like ours. We didn’t like any of them. Most of these system were nowehere near as advanced as the system we built. And that is still the case today.

But that’s not even the point.

The points are these. First of all if someone cares enough to not just listen to you but also build your idea that means you’re on the right track. So someone “stealing” your idea is probably a good sign. Second of all, this is not your biggest problem which is to validate if you have a working business model. And third, even if someone builds your idea, they are not going to build the same thing as you. In case both of you did manage to provide a product or service that does a job which people really need doing, then there sure is space for both of you on the market.

How do we know if we are going in the right direction?

Now that’s something worth debating. Traditionally companies measure things like revenue, number of customers or subscribers. While these could be useful at some stage, they are useless when starting up. Mostly because you’re unlikely to have any of them. These metrics are also known as vanity metrics so beware how you use them.

For a long time we looked at active subscribers, however we didn’t track in cohorts and so the metric wasn’t very useful. It wasn’t before we discovered Ash Maurya’s Running lean that we started using pirate metrics along with other useful tools like the Lean Canvas, the Traction model and the Customer Factory.

The lean canvas is a tool that allows you to uncover your biggest risks and build a model that works. The traction model helps you draft a journey and track your progress. The customer factory links it all together and provides a good view of your system and how changes you make impact it.

If you’re interested to learn more on metrics check our earlier blog post about metrics here. You can try out the Lean Canvas, Traction model and Customer factory free for 60 days on Ash Maurya’s own LeanStack.com.

If you also happen to be local to Bournemouth, UK then why not join our monthly workshop at www.GOLEANworkshop.com. We cover topics from the LeanStack boot start programme and you have the opportunity to meet us in person and get your questions answered.

GoLean

We share lean start-up techniques and practices from our Bootstrapping journey

Thanks to Richard Allen

Plamen Balkanski

Written by

Co-founder at LeaveWizard.com and GoLeanWorkshop.com, Start-up geek

GoLean

GoLean

We share lean start-up techniques and practices from our Bootstrapping journey

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