Five Stages of Startup: Level 2 -- Start

Risk, Creativity, Logistics, Planning, Execution
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The five stages of startup I'm discussing 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.

Last time, I defined and discussed the first level of what's basically a generalized startup timeline. Level 1: The Jump, covers the period of time before the thing is actually a thing -- when it's just a great idea that will become a great product that can be sold to a market by a company.

And, of course, the moment when the entrepreneur has decided that they're all in on starting that company.

Read Level 1: The Jump if you haven't.

Now let's start making stuff.

Level 2: Start

Level 2 begins at that all-important point when the company is real and you arrive for your first day of work. Oh yeah, congratulations on the new job. Celebrate, but then get to work. This is where you make your new job into a real job.

Start is entirely about creating both the product and the company - they will work together as one symbiotic machine that, ultimately, will solve a big problem for your market. The company and product are usually indistinguishable, and the founders are tasked with getting both off the ground at the same time.

This is also the level that everyone associates with the Hollywood version of startup. This is the daring young genius tucked into a dorm room under a hoodie level. This is the Mark Zuckerberg wanna-be level. The Shark Tank level.

Don't fall for any of that, because despite everything you've learned from television and the movies, this is the level at which you will most likely fail.

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Risk is a word constantly uttered in startup circles. Everything about startup is risky. Starting a company is risky. Hiring people is risky. Taking a job at a startup is risky. Investing in a startup is risky. Bringing a new product to market is risky.

And on and on.

Yeah, well, to that I say, going to work for someone else is risky. Staying in a position longer than your skills are valuable is risky. Starting a family is risky. Buying a home is risky. Investing in stocks is risky.

Let's face it. Getting up in the morning is risky. It's fraught with risk.

Risk isn't something you avoid. It's something you anticipate, measure, manage, and conquer. In Level 2, we'll talk about doing just that.

Creativity, in my mind, is what separates great entrepreneurs from good entrepreneurs. It's not the single factor that's going to determine whether the startup is successful or not, but having it sure helps.

The product you have in mind when you first start building is not going to be the product you end up launching, and that product will likely be different than the one your customers want and ultimately buy. But wait, even once you start making sales, that product probably isn't the one that will rocket your company into the stratosphere.

They're all the same product, but you will pivot, adapt, advance, and evolve through an endless series of changes before you find success. This is where creativity is a must.

Furthermore, the company you start will go through similar shifts and changes and problems. You're going to need maximum creativity to deal with this.

Logistics are the opposite of creativity, in some sense, but they're crucial. They're the nuts and bolts of starting and running a company. This includes everything from incorporation to drafting share agreements to hiring to finding space to work to establishing processes and rules for how you want to operate.

Logistics are boring, unfun, and the bane of every entrepreneur, but they're important. No entrepreneur ever thinks they need an attorney close at hand until they run into their first legal issue. The same goes for employment agreements, sales contracts, and term sheet templates downloaded from the Internet.

Planning is where leadership first becomes a factor at a startup. I am a planning fanatic, and I'm also a huge proponent of creating backup plans -- Plan B, Plan C, and so on -- until I run out of letters at Plan Z.

You've got to plan your company's operations, growth, finances, and resources. You've got to plan your product and its feature pipeline and release schedule. You've got to plan your path to market, your metrics and goals, and how and when you'll react to your product's performance. You've got to plan your marketing campaigns, your sales pipeline, your pricing, delivery, maintenance, and support.

You don't have to plan your exit. And you shouldn't.

Execution follows planning. I put execution at the end of Level 2 because that's where the dreaming and idealism and newness of what you're doing wears off and execution becomes the single-most important metric that will determine the success of your company.

If planning is your map and execution is your engine, measurement is your compass. You never execute without a plan, and you never complete a plan without defining and documenting how you will measure the execution -- what means good and what means bad and what means scrap everything and start over.

You will fail at execution. A lot. Most of those fails are going to be OK and are in fact necessary, but too many of them in a short period of time can be fatal. Good planning, solid execution, and well-thought-out measurement will stave off those fatal fails for as long as possible.

When does Level 2 end and Level 3 begin? That's a very good question, as now the gates between the levels become blurry. Usually, a good marker is when the product is launched or when the company lands significant funding. At that point, Start is in the rear-view mirror and you're well on your way.

Read the entire Five Stages of Startup series:
Level 1: The Jump
Level 2: Start (You Are Here)
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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