What I should have known before starting entrepreneurship

What I learned in 5 years of entrepreneurship, from co-founding a 10 million dollar company to launching bootstrapped side-businesses.

The beginning

I started the entrepreneurship game a few years ago with my business partner @vladimir_agaev.

My main fear was to not find a good business idea at the beginning of that journey. I say "good" because we all thought that our first business idea would be the one that would make us successful. And it's not.

Actually, it's not that much the business idea that matters. But the execution.

And we had a lot of ideas [spoiler alert: shitty for most of them].

Our process was:

  1. Have an idea of a cool SaaS;
  2. Make a [very] few research about the problem we’re trying to solve
  3. Avoid making research on your competitors [helps to think that you're the first one that taught about the idea]
  4. Convince yourself that your cool idea answers that problem [even if it does not]
  5. Don't talk to anyone about your idea. Never. They could steal it.
  6. Spend hours on the name of your "venture", and its logo.
  7. Believe that your product will sell itself.
  8. Spend hundreds of hours of work on development [especially on minors details]
  9. Give up after hundreds of hours of work because the idea is finally not "so great"
  10. Go back to step 1

But I was supposed to know that.We all read Lean Startup, Zero to One, and other "top 10 books to read to be an entrepreneur". However, it is hard to extract a clear process from business books. The value is always distilled over 300 pages. As such, it is extremely time-consuming.

I've done a checklist [500 checks] of everything that needs to be done to find a "good" [profitable] bootstrapped business. It is not the recipe for success. Take it as a way to derisk your next project.

I should have followed a 5-step process

Here are the key takeaways:

General principles

  • Manage your expectations vs reality. Try to not jump the gun and necessarily aim at being the next billion-dollar company. Chances are high you will be disappointed.
  • Embrace the Pareto principle. 80% of the results will come out of 20% of your efforts. Don't focus on details. Kill perfectionism.
  • At this stage, you're having an idea. At best a project. Not a company.
  • Everything starts with a hypothesis. Hypotheses must be confirmed by the market [potential clients]. Success comes from the confirmation by the market that your hypotheses are good.
  • Spend 5x more time thinking than rushing and developing
  • Sell before building.
  • From inception, build your mailing list (they will be your first customers)

I learned that the best way to create products is to follow my five-step process.

STEP 1 - Find your business Idea

Formulate hypotheses that will be confirmed in steps 2, 3, and 4.

If at some point you realize that the idea is not that good, cut the loss.

Come back to step one.

A. Start with the problem

How to find it? Identify flaws in your workflow at work, inefficiencies in a market, or simply get inspired by other businesses. Are people talking a lot about the problem? Is the problem expensive to solve? Are people really annoyed by the problem? Is it something that prevents them from sleeping?

B. What do you aim at?

A solution that helps you to be better in social, security, physical, economic, recognition, achievement (i.e: be more productive), growth.

C. How sizeable is the problem?

Is it a problem encountered by many people, or are you focussing on a niche? If you're focussing on a niche, is the niche "accessible" and open to innovation?

D. KISS [keep it simple, stupid]

Is your idea explainable in 15 seconds? Can you explain it without describing the features?

E. Avoid

businesses that require high capital, volumes (in terms of users), and legal challenges. (i.e.: fintech, social networks, gambling companies].

Avoid the "I created this because I would personally use it" approach. You're not your customer. As such, nobody cares about your opinion. What counts is the feedback of the market on your idea.

STEP 2 - Embrace the competition

A. Find your competitors

Limit yourself to 5-10 competitors. Research of G2, Capterra, Alternativeto, etc. Talk to industry experts and hear their opinion about the problem you're solving and understand how they solve it without your solution (they most probably use a manual approach or a competitor).

If you don't have any direct or indirect competitor, go back to step 1.

B. What are the killer features of your competitors?

List the top 10 features of each of your competitors. Keep the top 3 features. Focus on how to achieve them in a better way.

C. How do they communicate their Value-Proposition?

One of the most difficult tasks is conveying the right message to the customer. They must understand directly what your product is about and how you can help them to solve their problem. Get inspired by the competition, and aggregate everything in word clusters.

D. Identify the flaws of your competitors

Try their product. Check customer reviews (g2, capterra, etc). Talk with their sales team and customer support. Understand why their customers are choosing them over other competitors. Discover inefficiencies in their product.

STEP 3 - Innovate - Talk with customers

A. Contact the right people

Experts in the industry, key stakeholders at companies. Pretend you're making a press article or a blog contribution about them. They will be more likely to talk with you.

B. Ask them the right questions

Try to be as neutral as possible. Don't talk too much while interviewing them (you must talk at most during 20% of the conversation). Don't ask questions for the sole goal of having the confirmation you're right about a topic. Show them a path, and let them talk about their frustrations.

C. Understand how they currently solve the problem

How do they deal with the problem that would potentially be solved by your solution? Do they use one of your future competitors? Why did they choose that solution over another? What they like about the solution they're currently using, and what they don’t like?

STEP 4 - Define your buyer persona

Who will, in the end, use your product? Who is the key stakeholder that will validate the purchase of your solution and who will actually use it? (i.e: a CFO is not the buyer persona of a marketing solution). What is their budget allocated to solve the problem they are encountering? What kind of companies are you targeting (Startups, SMEs, Corporate)?Who would not buy your product?

STEP 5 - Put your idea into words

This one is a difficult one. Fill this famous sentence:

We help {target audience} to {problem you're solving} by {your solution}.


Always keep those 3 points in mind:

  • Follow a simple framework. Follow a structured process. Make sure you don't spend countless hours doing research without acting.
  • Be sure people need your product. Don't launch anything if you don't have validation by the market that people will need your product.
  • Kill your perfectionism. Launch, then iterate!

If you don't follow a framework, you will get lost. You will lose time, energy, and motivation.

In the end, it's all about creation and iteration. You don't need to read dozens of business books. To be honest, they pretty much say all the same thing. We summarised the most important bits  in a digestible format for you.

The Checklist is the most compelling framework available. You will learn how to use 20% of your time to reach 80% of the results. Work less, but smarter. Focus on what will really determine the success of your company.

I'm sharing daily insights on my Twitter. Follow me here as I continue to document my entrepreneurship journey.

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