It’s not 0 or 1

It seems binary thinking is not prevalent in just tech founders but when starting a business in general. Often people seem to think something needs to be done perfectly, or it isn’t possible. If that’s reason not to pursue your dream of building a product/business, that’s a shame because you can slowly work your way from 0 to 1.

All at once

At every stage in the business, you’ll deal with other issues and challenges. It’s okay to learn while doing and deal with them as they occur, otherwise it would become impossible to start. Thinking you have to do everything all at once means you can’t really start with anything.

In the beginning you don’t know yet whether anything you’re about to do will really matter. That’s when it’s best to worry about “bad problems”. That’s not a pleonasm, because there are “good problems” too. A bad problem would be not having any customers yet. Focus on that. A good problem is having so many customers that you can’t handle support anymore.

Spending time on fixing good problems you don’t have yet is a waste because it might never have been needed in the first place. Plus you won’t really understand yet what the best way to handle it is until later.

All in

Starting a business doesn’t mean you need to drop everything else. We started building our first software business when we were students. We did freelancing and work for university on the side. Admittedly it was a very busy time, and we promised ourselves to switch to full-time as soon as we financially could, but we managed to grow to our first product in this way and become ramen profitable

Going all-in when it’s an option is great, but sometimes the timing isn’t right and starting up on the side is totally possible. See if you can get a first customer, then scale it up. 

Doing less

Some things which need attention can also be fixed with a duct tape solution, and then revisit them later when it becomes really painful. For our first app we didn’t even have a password reset option. People had to email us and then we’d reset it for them, manually. We just didn’t have the time, and if we would end up with 0 customers it would have been a waste of time to invest in. 

Technical founders also like to set up their perfect environment and tech stack. Kubernetes, CI/CD, Docker, Microservices, the list goes on and on. It’s all a waste of time if you don’t have a product with customers yet, and you just won’t need it. Duct-tape it together with whatever means necessary for now (that actually sounds worse than it is, I like to think of it as just going for a simple and elegant solution). Worst case it takes off and you get to improve it while being paid for it.

Copying the big league 

Because big businesses are more visible, their approach sometimes seems like the only way to do anything. But just like when they were small, many of the challenges they have are not relevant to you.

Just because Netflix has servers all over the world doesn’t mean you can’t run your entire business from a single computer under your desk. Focus on getting some customers first. You don’t need to worry about a few minutes downtime yet (if you have any people noticing at all then that’s a Good Problem).

Just because Google is tracking the usage across their apps and A/B tests everything doesn’t mean you even have the numbers to make any of that relevant. Just get feedback on your product first.

As a founder you can (and have to, initially) do everything yourself. You are the sales department, the financial department, the technical department, the support department. Customers are not going to mind if you provide a good service. Besides, from which company you recently dealt with did you get a personal note from the CEO when you had a question. How amazing is that in terms of support?

Lots of founder also seem to worry about all kinds of legal paperwork being so complicated they don’t get started, and overestimate the problems they will get exposed to. You are not going to have the same responsibilities and issues as Amazon. Many exemptions apply to small businesses in the first place, but even the big players don’t have everything perfectly set up. Lots of things you can do yourself. For example, the entire GDPR framework is explained on a website which you can read in a day, problem solved. You don’t need expensive consultants for that. Same for accounting, just go with something simple or do it yourself for now.

Get building and find those first customers!

You can follow us on Twitter @jdvhouten and @wcools and look for #80daystartup

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