Where to Start When Starting a Startup

or, a thinking person’s guide to changing culture

When I started my consulting business, I had a hunch, a little cash, and some big hopes and dreams. 

I had just finished a ten year stint at a locally owned business in Birmingham, Alabama. Luckily for me, I joined this company right at the beginning of a downtown renaissance of which my employer was one of, if not the, leading entities. 

Over the ten years I spent with Urban Standard I watched as new businesses sprang up, took root, and helped shape and energize a part of downtown Birmingham that no one seemed to care about previously. We saw restaurants, retail, apartments, law firms, and more grow over that decade. The landscape of 2nd Avenue North was changed forever. 

With this experience under my belt, I began to take an interest in the process of starting new companies and helping them to not only survive and thrive, but also crafting them in such a way that they could have the same kind of positive impact on an area, a community, and even prevailing thought about a product or service. 

I had been exposed to the radical power that business had to change and shape cultures for the betterment of everyone touched by that culture and I wanted to play a part in helping other would-be entrepreneurs do the same. 

In 2017, I started my company without such an eloquent mission in mind, but it was the force driving my efforts forward. Two years later, that mission has come into sharper focus and I’m looking forward to continuing to build on the successes my clients have enjoyed. 

Which brings me to a question I get a lot: Where do I start? 

Starting a Startup: The first steps

People start businesses for a lot of different reasons. Some folks want to make money, while others are looking to build a bank of experience that future employers may find attractive. 

Still others can’t exactly articulate their reasoning for starting a business. They just know that they have an idea they’re passionate about and they want to see it come to life. 

Regardless of the reasoning, there’s one characteristic shared by all inspired startups: they see a culture and they want to change it for the better. 

This can take a lot of different forms. Perhaps your idea is oriented toward social change, or maybe you see a product that doesn’t work as well as it could and you want to improve it. Maybe you have a particular specialized understanding of a technology or service and you want to leverage that specialization to create a new product or service that will change the way people conduct their daily lives. 

All of these reasons and more are equally valid and equally inspired. But there’s on step that has to happen before you can get to this kind of clarity about your mission and that’s making an assumption.

Assumptions build businesses.

Starting a business, for many people, is a bit like trying to navigate a new city blindfolded. You have a destination in mind, but not only do you not know the city you’re in, you also can’t see what’s happening around you. And because of this, you’re more likely to get yourself into a wreck before you can even manage to get started exploring in any meaningful way. 

What you’re missing, in essence, is data. In this scenario, before you even think about a map, you need to remove your blindfold so you can see and avoid an accident. 

For a new business, “removing the blindfold” is making and testing assumptions.

Many people start businesses without ever verifying whether or not their idea, product, or service is something that anyone wants or needs in the first place. To go back to the analogy above, these people get in their car and immediately drive to a completely different city from the one they need to be in. 

Sure, they’re getting around ok, but driving to Buffalo hoping end up at the Statue of Liberty won’t get you anywhere meaningful. 

To prevent this problem, we need to start by intentionally making some assumptions about the product or service we’re trying to build and sell. If you’re a science-type, this is also known as a hypothesis. Your hypothesis is what designs your experiments. 

And your experiments are what help you arrive at your theory and, eventually, scientific law. 

We’re diving into the testing of assumptions in the next post in this series, but for now, I want to give you three steps you can take today to start the process of building your business…

  1. Make three assumptions about your product or service and how it will be used.

  2. Make three assumptions about why your product or service will be a better or more acceptable alternative than existing solutions.

  3. Make three assumptions about why your product or service will not provide a meaningfully useful alternative or replacement to existing solutions.

Taking the pressure off to make starting easier

Starting a business is scary, expensive, and difficult. There are so many unknowns. You’re really not unlike a blindfolded driver attempting to navigate that busy city. The task can feel just as impossible. 

But don’t despair. The secret to getting started is lowering the pressure you place on yourself and your idea. We want to reduce the “activation energy” so you can take smaller steps that are easier to manage. 

A bunch of small steps eventually adds up to a long distance. 

Starting by brainstorming and testing assumptions is a great technique. In fact, we think it’s completely necessary for anyone seriously looking to start a new business that makes an impact. 

So write down your assumptions and make sure you’re putting good thought into them. We’re about to start testing and testing is going to start to show you the road map to success.