Guide for Launching a Startup

Find a metaphor, not just an analogy

One of the biggest mistakes startups make, is to compare your product or service with another popular startup or website:

  • " I am Building a Friendster for auto mechanics. "

  • " We want to be the eBay for restaurant reservations "

  • " Our app is a cross between AirBnb and FarmVille "

Often the thing that you compare yourself to is obscure in the sense that many have heard of it, but they may not understand the full capabilities of the site unless they have interacted with it and formed an intuition of what that comparison site does. This vastly diminishes the uniqueness of what you do, as others have to understand what your comparison company does and why they are unique before they understand what you do.

Instead of using an analogy, use a metaphor. A metaphor is something you compare to the real world. For example, a pinboard is a metaphor for Pinterest, and people saw this as a replacement for pinboards they would use in real life. With a metaphor, you have a much bigger and richer vocabulary you could draw from but if you compare yourself to another site you are limited by that site's limitations.

Writers are often good at coming up with metaphors. Talk to them about your idea and see what

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Brainstorm and test out your idea with someone who has done it before

One of the most fun activity you can do as a startup founder is brainstorming: " Let's talk about new product ideas! Cool design concepts! Disruptive marketing hacks! Maybe even throw in a famous spokesperson for our company! "

The truth is that brainstorming is really less about coming up with new ideas, but more about sifting out the " gems " from the pool of ideas. Then, you will need to synthesize a cohesive set of good—and doable ideas— that can form the foundation for a viable new business.

This is harder than it looks. What you need to do is to find an experienced entrepreneur and pretend he or she is your co-founder. Brainstorm, or even argue with this person for an hour or two. An experienced entrepreneur usually have a good feel of which ideas are good and which are bad, as they have been burned by similar bad ones in the past. Be prepared to go through 3 or 4 generations of your idea because your first idea often sucks. Under-thinking areas that are new to you, and over-thinking areas that you know a lot about often skews the results of brainstorming towards your comfort zone and not towards the market opportunity.

So, before you commit resources to building out an idea, work with someone who is experienced in making your ideas better, quickly.

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Answer the question: " Why you? "

Once you have honed in on an idea that you believe is the right one, you must be prepared to explain to yourself and others why you are the right person to run this venture.

Look at this as an application essay for yourself as the CEO of this company. It could be because of your prior experience, educational background, lifelong passion, circumstances, skill sets, or a combination of all of these. The key is to convince someone who must be sold on the idea that there is no other person in the world better than you for the job.

Outcome 1: Your narrative is natural, it makes sense, and it becomes your personal story behind founding the company. Investors and customers are convinced that you are the only one for this role.

Outcome 2: If you can't convince someone that you are the right person for this, then it's not for you. Go back to the drawing board to find something else to invest your time and energy.

Startups are often a manifestation of everything you are. You can't do a startup when you are not the right person to do it, or when you can't convince others that you are.

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Get as many reactions as you can to everything you have made

How a person reacts is more important than what they say after you stop speaking. Read their face and their body language. In a marketing study, you would have a one-way mirror, but when you are having dinner with prospective customers, have a team member attend dinner with you. Have one person pitch while the other observes how the prospective client or investor reacts to the product. There will be some things that worked better than you thought they would have, and others that will work less well.

The goal is to get as many reactions as possible as these reactions will give you perspective on how your idea would translate when a random person on the internet or a mobile device interacts with your product.

People are really good at picking up cues and adjusting their stories based on these reactions, so after you have about twenty of these dinners and discussions, you will be able to quickly adjust your pitch to what works well.

A dinner with someone is essentially a pitch to someone, and by the time you have done it twenty times, it will be easy for you to stand in-front of a room to pitch what you do. Alternate who does these pitches; through a number of permutations, you may get mutations of the ideas. Pay careful attention to how your pitch develops over time because honing in on the new ways in which you pitch your product may help you refine the function of your product as well.

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