After 10 years of growing a successful consulting company from the ground up, into a profitable, 50 person firm, I've sold the business and I’m launching a startup.
Launching a startup is exhilarating! There's so much to do, and it's definitely an adjustment from working at a 60 person company.
Many things are different. For starters, the way I generate and process ideas is drastically different. I used to rely on collaboration with my co-workers. Now, I've taken inspiration from the movie"Akeelah and the Bee". Akeelah is studying for the big spelling bee, and he coach sets her free to study on her own. She's terrified and confides in her mom, who tells her "I bet if you just look around, you got 50,000 coaches."
Thanks to the outpouring of support from the NYC and Boston tech communities, I truly feel like I've got 50,000 coaches.
With the combined advise of my coaches, here are the first 5 things I did.
Step 1: Take a Break
This is specifically a mental break. A time in which you give yourself permission to stop thinking about everything in the past and allowed yourself to not yet think about all the things to come. A time for the present, for the now. To clear your brain, reset, and watch reality TV to your heart’s content.
Step 2: Brain Dump onto Index Cards
Go to Staples and buy a giant pack of blank index cards. And then brain dump everything you can think of. Don’t worry about how realistic anything is, how long it will take, how important or unimportant it is. Just get everything out of your brain, onto index cards. One idea per index card please. For example “Incorporate LLC” is what I wrote on one index card. “Create Hiring Plan” is what I wrote on another. “Buy garbage can for office” is yet another. Doesn’t matter how small or large the items are, keep it simple, don’t worry about how, when, where, just get all the stuff you think you need to do to start your company down.
Step 3: Create Iteration Zero
I come from the world of Agile, where everything is done in iterations. I even do my kids homework in iterations. Starting a business should be no different. To create Iteration Zero, you can be as formal or informal as you’d like. For me, I was quite informal. I took a look at the brain dump of 200 index cards I had just created and thought “Holy Cow, that’s a lot of stuff, I’m overwhelmed.” And then I took a 5 minute break. And then I asked myself “What small set of things should I do week one?”
An important question to ask here is – “Do any of these items have a cost of delay?” If something is a ‘now or never’ type of thing, that you must either do in week one or you don’t get a chance to do it again, you need to know that and make sure that item gets into week one.
Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. Here’s where estimating and all the good Scrum behaviors come in handy. Truth is, you’re not going to know how much you can get done. That’s the whole point of iteration zero, to see how much you can accomplish in week one. Not to worry. Pick a few things, start on a couple, finish these couple before you start on others. Be careful to not have too many balls in the air at once. Take a task fully to completion before bringing on more work. For all you Agile folks out there, I’m preaching to the choir.
Step 4: Create a Landing Page
This is super fun. I used KickoffLabs. I found the site to be top notch, but more importantly, there are real people on the other side of the internet that actually respond to your emails. What a concept. They walked me through the entire process, and even gave me free access to Landing Pages 107, an easy to follow online tutorial on creating effective landing pages.
Last Thursday, I launched my landing page – www.debbiemadden.com. KickoffLabs walked me through not only the design of the page, but also gave me feedback on content, and gave me advice on how to offer great things to my audience like a content piece that’s valuable to them.
Step 5: Take another break
Starting a company is hard. There’s a lot of temptation to go directly into overdrive. Problem with this is, if you don’t stop to think big picture, chances are, you’ll go 100 miles per hour in the wrong direction. It’s been shown that wandering minds are the often the most creative. The New York Times piece “Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind” states that a wandering mind “fosters creativity and helps you solve problems”
The process I describe here took me through week one of my journey. I feel energized, focused, and in control. I have the large majority of hard work ahead of me, and I’m glad I’m going into this journey with fresh mental energy and a de-cluttered mind.