How we built a viable company in 6 months — without hiring a team
Follow this blueprint and you can too
Six months ago I learned a lot from the failure of my first company. After dusting myself off, I wanted to build something substantial. Something that would significantly ease the pressure involved in starting up in the tech space.
The typical startup playbook involves forming a team by selling your vision (equity), building a Minimum Viable Product, testing the market’s acceptance, raising funding, building a feasible product, launching it and spending a fortune on growth hacking.
And… 90% of startups fail. You need to iterate, iterate, iterate, iterate, iterate, iterate and iterate to save yourself from the typical outcome — failure.
I felt it is very important to try to optimize this process given the time, stakes, effort and the money that goes into building a product and a company. I also didn’t want to follow the typical startup playbook, and I’m inspired by David Heinemeier Hansson’s very different take on Silicon Valley’s hysteria with tech unicorns:
I recently stumbled on two important stats — 28.2 trillion messages are expected to be sent in they year 2017 and 34% of the US workforce are freelancers and leaning towards working for themselves.
Goal: Build a platform where entrepreneurs can instantly connect with vetted talent so they can launch their ideas quickly and cost-effectively. Oh, and achieve this by eating your own dog food.
That’s an ambitious goal. It requires a lot of craftsmanship to get from idea to execution. I partnered with another non-technical friend, Gregory. These are the 5 steps we followed to build our startup.
Step 1. Validate the idea before building anything
The one crucial mistake the vast majority of startup founders make? Believing that everyone will love their idea as much as they do. And so they invest blood, sweat and tears to build something they can take to market, or to investors. After weeks, months or sometimes years, cold hard reality hits them: no-one wants what they’ve built. It’s a soul-destroying realization (and far more common than most founders admit).
Luckily, there’s an easy way to avoid building something no-one wants:
Step 2. Get the first few paying customers on-board
At this point you should already know who your product is built for and have a general idea of your target audience. Answering these questions are pivotal in targeting your first customers. Even before spending money and time building your minimum viable product (MVP), you should hack together solutions and continue testing (see step 1). If the idea is sticky, build your target audience persona. Answer the detailed questions — who are they, what is their title, where do they live, when are they available, why would they use your product, and how they’ll be using it. Start with referrals and don’t be shy. Ask everyone you know and have your friends ask friends — even parents can ask their friends. There is no room in this business for shame. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a couple people willing to give it a go. If not, send out some very, very personalized cold emails.
Start small. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Get those first customers feeling like they just got away with murder and you’re patting them on the back for a job well done. This will kill two birds with one stone. You’ll understand how to manage customer success and set expectations for future clients and you’ll be able to understand the bottlenecks and behavior of your client.
Need a few more tactics to help with Step 2?
Step 3. Defining your MVP & Iteration
As you’re building your tech startup you’ll no doubt come across the idea of a Minimum Viable Product. While the concept makes sense, I’ve seen many implementations of MVP go horribly wrong.
There are two exceptional quotes that helped me understand and apply the often confusing principle of MVP:
“You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries not everyone.” — Steve Blank
“An MVP is a down payment on a larger vision.” — Johnny Holland
I’ve written up a case study explaining how Musk’s Tesla Roadster was the MVP of Gigafactory. To fully understand the power of starting with the Grand Problem and delivering MVP’s en route to solving the Grand Problem, dive in here:
Step 4. Building a Team
We’ve built our company with no funding and without hiring a single employee. We couldn’t have done this without making use of a global workforce. Working remotely and running a remote team may seem like black magic to many. Where do you start? How do you build trust? How do you communicate effectively?
The good news is that there are so many collaboration tools available now to make remote working more feasible than establishing an office. Here we’ve rounded up examples of 10 large businesses today who started out by outsourcing their initial product build:
I love entrepreneurship, and I hope our entrepreneurial journey has inspired you to start yours. If I can help in any way, or you just want to bounce ideas around, drop me a line — I’m always happy to help a fellow-entrepreneur.