Five Stages of Startup: Level 1 -- The Jump

Ideation, Creation, Formation, Community, Help
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The map to startup success is really difficult to draw. Startup is about doing new things in new ways, and no two startups achieve success in the exact same way.

And because startup success is so hard to map, it's also hard to teach -- which makes it hard to learn.

So you have to teach and learn startup in new ways, but you also have to create a few universal ground rules, like landmarks on a map. That said, let me be very up-front about what I'm about to tell you:

The five stages of startup I'm about to discuss are not THE five stages of startup. They're just landmarks, broken down and generalized into something that we can all hopefully use as a guide, not gospel.

I broke these five stages into levels, because every entrepreneur should constantly be asking where they're at. It's the first thing they should think about when they wake up in the morning -- with the next thing being: How do I get to the next level?

It's important to define and discuss each level because there are different skills and actions required at each level -- because there are different rules and needs at each level.

Example: Level 1 entrepreneurs, those who are just starting out, need support, advice, guidance, and they need to be totally flexible about what they're building and what it is they're trying to accomplish. Level 4 entrepreneurs, those already living the dream, need some of those same things, probably less flexibility, but definitely more problem-solving, leadership, and crisis management.

Now, since the only way to know where you're going is to know where you are, let's figure that out, starting with the first steps.

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Level 1: The Jump

This is the stage before the thing is actually a thing, and by that I mean that the startup is not something you're actively working on, but it could be. There's at least an idea, narrowed down to a product, one that can be sold to a market, and there should be the beginnings of a plan.

Most importantly, there's a will -- a desire to make the leap, throw out all of the fear, take on all of the risk, and make a go at the thing. Your own thing.

Ideation is the your primary focus at this level. It's the process of coming up with a single great idea, which is worthless, and turning that idea into something that has great value. A lot of wanna-be entrepreneurs never get out of the starting gate because they never complete this process. They're full of great ideas, but they can't, or won't, execute.

Ideation is a numbers game. For every 1,000 ideas you have, 100 of them will actually be worth remembering, 10 of them will be worth thinking about, and one of them will be worth pursuing -- in other words, taking the next step beyond just telling people about your world-changing idea.

That means that if you come up with 10 ideas a day, it'll take about three years to come up with one that's good enough to build a company around. The good news is that there's probably a backlog of ideas in your brain. Access and unleash them.

Creation is the process of taking that great idea and turning it into a great product. In technology, this means coding until you have something that works and can be shown. You should never, ever start a company until you have something tangible that can be demonstrated, not just described.

But whether you're creating a technical product, like an app, or any other kind of product or service, the trick to creation is developing that product or service into something that is unique and can grow and scale. Creation requires time, thought, research, and trial and error.

Formation is the establishment of the company itself, everything from the logistics of incorporating to determining who does what to letting the world know you exist -- more than a website or a Twitter handle or a Facebook page.

Formation is a critical stage, because it's where some of the most important decisions, and mistakes, are made. It seems simple enough -- pick a name, form a team, create a brand, knock on some doors. But it's so much more than that.

You should be thinking about ownership, personal investment, culture, sales, marketing, five-year-plans, funding, and at least a hundred other things. But most importantly, you should be thinking about building the machine that sells the product.

Community is the startup support structure around you. There used to be maybe half-a-dozen startup communities in the US. That list started with Silicon Valley and then there was everything else -- New York, Boston, maybe a few others.

Now, startup communities are everywhere. This website you're reading right now is the digital equivalent of a startup community, and those are everywhere as well.

But even with all the community growth over the last ten years, another unnecessary reason why a lot of startups fail is because the entrepreneurs who start them are not aware of or don't take advantage of the resources around them, including reaching out to other entrepreneurs who might have the same problems they have.

Startup communities should be led by entrepreneurs, and it's the responsibility of each entrepreneur in that community to make sure that happens. That includes you.

Help comes from any angle necessary, whether that's the startup community, your friends, your family, your old boss, anyone who can assist you in getting from this level to the next.

You'd be surprised how many entrepreneurs don't ask for help -- until you're actually an entrepreneur in need of help. It's not an easy ask to make, let alone to even know what to ask for or who to ask.

Ideation, Creation, Formation, Community, and Help make up Level 1. Nail them and you'll know where you are and how to navigate. These concepts should stay with you in some form as you move through future levels, but once you get them down, you'll not only be ready to aim for the next level, you'll definitely know when you've reached that next level.

Read the entire Five Stages Of Startup Series:
Level 1: The Jump (You Are Here)
Level 2: Start
Level 3: The Journey
Level 4: The Grind
Level 5: The End

Read the entire Five Roles of Startup series:
Vision
Build
Sales
Operations
Growth

Read the entire Five Funding Sources for Startup series:
Customers
Self
Friends and Family
Angel
VC

Read the entire Five Kinds of Startup series:
Product
Service
Digital
Retail
Hybrid

Read the entire Five Reasons for Startup series:
Independence
Wealth
Common Good
Personality
Elimination

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