"Where do I start?"

Over the years that I have been working with startups and early-stage businesses I have overheard many different things.  The majority of these follow the normal concerns of any entrepreneur that is entering into uncharted waters for themselves but there have also been some comments that I have overheard that have been unique to the individual’s concerns or the setting in which it was said.

Whilst these ‘overheard’ moments have all made me smile for one reason or another, it is important to remember that when any one of us expands our horizons and sets about doing something new, our learning curve is steep and there should be no such thing as a stupid question. It is much better to ask than to allow what might be a small misunderstanding or lack of knowledge now turn into a major problem later.

These questions might be the very basic fundamentals from which all the foundations of the business are built, or they might be a very specific point on a relatively arcane financial matter, but whatever the case, as far as the person voicing the question is concerned they are all equally as important and should be treated as so.

In this new series for 2020 we thought that it might be fun to share with you some of the comments overheard in a startup as whilst they made me smile at the time there are certainly lessons to be learned from both the questions and the answers to those questions.

It would be true to say that one of the most fundamental questions I have ever overheard in a startup was when I heard the question:

“But… where do I start?!”

Such a short and simple question but with potentially an infinite and infinitely variable answer. I could not help but go and ask for a bit more detail to the question before trying to suggest some areas of thought. It turned out that it was a conversation between two people that had always been paid employees in a large corporate but were now separately considering leaving and setting up by themselves. This for anyone is one of the scariest steps and there are so many questions it is very fair to encapsulate them all in the simple question ‘where do I start’?

From that simple question grew a long conversation about what type of business were each of them planning? Have they started to do proper market research? What ‘problems’ or ‘needs’ will the new business solve? How will they monetise their idea? Will they be sole founders or have co-founders? Do they already have experience in the sector of the new business or will it be something entirely new? Will they need to invest heavily into the startup or is it not capital intensive? What are the barriers to entry? What will be unique about their product or service? How much savings do they have and how long will they be able to give the new business to start to break even? 

Once those questions are answered new questions arise such as has a business plan been done? What assumptions have been used for the business plan and the future financial forecasts? What advice has been taken and from where? But all of those were for the future as they are not so much ‘where do I start’ but rather more ‘how do I do this properly’ type of questions. But these and more will be covered in future articles.

But as to the ‘where do I start?’ question, the best answer is the most obvious one – start at the beginning. That is, investigate the market properly and ensure that your proposed new venture will address a real need or want in the market and that you will do this in some unique way. According to official government statistics the biggest reason a startup fails is because the founders had failed to investigate the market properly. Only once you are confident that there is a need for your business should you consider the next steps.

The new series will be published every week on Tuesday.