Get Off Your Asterisk and Start Something
Have you started something recently? Do you have an idea you’ve been noodling on for a few years? Pull it out of the cedar chest, dust it off, and prepare to showcase. It’s startup week.
Twin Cities Startup Week—Oct. 7-14—gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their ideas to investors, collaborators, potential customers, and future employees. Coordinated by local companies, universities, and state agencies, this showcase of business ideas unites Minnesotans in a common interest of fueling our economy—local, regional, national, and global. Startups are the seedlings that will grow into mighty blue spruce trees. We need to offer support, resources, and praise to those willing to take the risk to plant something new.
As a supporter of startups since we started Capsule, our little branding venture in the North Loop, here are some practical and philosophical bits for those just starting something up.
Write down what you think will happen with your new venture. Fill a few pages of the wooden notebook you bought from Woodchuck answering these questions: Why are you doing this? (And it better not be “To get rich.”) Who are you doing this for? What do you hope will happen? What do you fear will happen? What is your philosophy of life? Where do you see your venture in one, five, and 10 years? (Be as specific as possible.) Show your answers to your mom. Listen carefully to her feedback. Then store this notebook in a safe place and get to work.
List your own strengths and weaknesses, then fill your gaps with the right people. The more honest you are with yourself, the faster you’ll fill the gaps and achieve your goals. Pick people who are driven, able to do the work, and enjoyable to be around; people who have a point of view, and can push you. Your early hires set the culture. What do you want your culture to be like?
Grit is an infinitely valuable attribute. There will be times in any new venture when things go sideways or backward, and you and your team will need the resolve to find a way through it. Why do most startups fail? The founders give up. Have the grit the get through.
But if you do decide to give up, do it today. Not tomorrow. Have the humility to know that giving up is the right answer.
List your tangible and intangible assets, then add future potential intangibles. The tangibles—copyrights, patents, furniture, products—take work, so be organized. In the end, though, the value of your venture will primarily be intangible assets, so start building them from day one. That includes a great name and visual language. Your branding grows from there. Take the time to get it right or they become liabilities not assets. Your reputation is the largest intangible to start with; if it isn’t good or lacks reach (under 500 connections on LinkedIn), then get to a coffee shop immediately and start networking.
Starting something keeps you honest. You may be a bit too optimistic about your financial projections (everyone knows they’re all fairy-dust numbers). You may find yourself boasting about how things are going, to put a good public face on things and perhaps make yourself feel better about your future. But when everyone goes home, you need to face the real numbers—the ones you’ll have to present to bankers, investors, and others who do the math.
Fear is good, worry is worthless. Know the difference. The fear of failure will take away at least one full night of sleep; count on it. Fear motivates more than pleasure, so when you know what you fear, walk back from that hypothetical scenario. You might find it easier to use your fear to avoid the worst-case scenario—bankruptcy. But it doesn’t mean prison time, at least not in this country. Worry, on the other hand, is a prison you build for yourself. If you can’t do something about it, why worry? If you can do something, get to work.
For everyone else: Support those who do start something. Attend events, offer advice based on your experiences, make connections, or just give praise. We’re willing to pull out lawn chairs at the drop of a parade announcement; the least we can do is cheer on those who face their fears and start something new. Or perhaps startup week needs a parade down Nicollet this year.
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Aaron Keller is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule, a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.