Start Small, But Start
We have a saying we like to use a lot at one of my companies, Exercise.com: Think Big. Start Small. Go Deep. In my experience as a serial entrepreneur, author, and angel investor, I’ve found that we all have a tendency to be good at maybe one of those three things, but rarely all three.
The “Idea Guy”
The creative visionary types among us, the “idea guys,” have no problem with Think Big—we can come up with a dozen market-shattering ideas before breakfast, no problem. But when it comes to diving deep, learning how to understand a particular market or actually getting started, well, that’s another story.
The “Details Guy”
And, we all know the “details guys,” who can’t see the forest for the trees, and will spend years in analysis and prognosticating, before ever daring to actually take that first action step. If you find yourself endlessly comparing entity formation choices—LLC vs S Corp vs C Corp vs sole proprietor vs partnership vs LLC Envelope—before executing on your business idea, then you might be a details guy. If you are more concerned with writing business plans (that have to be “just right”), designing logos, printing business cards, and on and on it goes with a seemingly never ending list of “business startup” tasks before actually, well, conducting any type of actual business activity, then you might be a details guy.
The “Busy Guy”
Then, finally, those who mistake “busyness” for “business,” always starting things, always in motion, but rarely stepping back to see the big picture. Like the classic example of the baker who does everything in Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About It—all the sweeping, all the baking, all cashiering, everything—and then wakes up one morning for another 15-hr workday only to discover that he hasn’t really created a business but just an underpaid, overworked job for himself, if that’s you, then this might be you.
Which one are you? (And which ones do you need around you?)
Do you recognize any of these tendencies in your life? Where do you see yourself? Into which of these three categories do you see yourself most naturally “slipping into”?
If organizations, and especially startups, often take on the characteristics of their founder, then it becomes all the more important to surround yourself with key people who will balance out your strengths and weaknesses. “Idea guys” need “detail guys” need “action guys.” It’s not hard to imagine a conference room full of just one “type” of people, and all the chaos that would ensue without the proper balancing.
And the Most Important Thing is...
While each of these three charges, and corresponding personality types, are important, the single most needed piece of advice, for both organizations and individuals, by far, is found in this simple word:
How many ideas have you thought about, maybe even spent time dreaming about, both personally and professionally, that you’ve let just float around in your head for days, month, even years?
Ideas < Execution
I already know the excuses, believe me.
“But I’m not sure if I know how to do everything that’s required.”
That’s okay. Start with step one. If it’s an appropriately hard thing you’ve chosen, then often step two doesn’t reveal itself until you’ve completed step one (not always, but often).
But I’m not sure if the timing’s right. I’m waiting until I feel good about the situation / become less scared / I’m certain I won’t fail / etc. Or, if you are prone to spiritualizing your inaction and lack of courage: I’m waiting on God to “open a door” / write the answer in the sky / give me a shiver in my liver / etc. (If it feels like I’m stepping on your toes with this last one, then I would highly recommend you check out the book Just Do Something by pastor/author Kevin DeYoung.)
In short, the advice above—START—is only partially correct. Starting is great, that’s half the battle, but how should you start?
I can’t tell you how many times I wished I would have given this advice to myself. Long, drawn-out, complicated (also, see: expensive) software releases, where the focus was on shiny new idea and a big product launch instead of talking to customers and solving their problems. No matter how seemingly insignificant and small, even mundane sometimes, it may seem to just talk to people, and seek to understand how to solve their problems, this concept is actually called Customer Development.
In the “Godfather of the Lean Startup Movement”, Steve Blank termed Customer Development, instead of the oft-abused Product Development, in his classic book that spawned the Lean Startup Revolution, 4 Steps to the Epiphany (And yes, I realize I’m calling a book not even 15-year-old a classic, but hey, this is Silicon Valley, and 15 years is ancient). Now, whether it’s building software for personal trainers or a car insurance comparison quoting tool or iPhone & Android apps for logging workouts or on it goes—the number one thing we pay attention to now? Listening to our customers.
Time to Get Practical
Okay, time to step on some toes: ask yourself if any of the following scenarios describe you.
Do you have a new idea for a business?
Before thinking and dreaming about it for years, but never doing anything, and before quitting your job and investing all your money into an unproven idea, why not come home from your day job and work a couple hours every night on your business and see where that leads? Add before you subtract.
Do you have a new product idea for your business?
Before relegating it to an internal wiki to be forgotten, a.k.a. the “let’s just talk about it” extreme; or before spending a ton of money and resources on a huge product launch, a.k.a. the “go big or go home” extreme, why not start a small focus group of potential customers, release an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), and iterate from there?
Have you always wanted to write a book?
Well, sit down every day for X minutes, and put the words on the page. Books exist in written form, not in your head. Hate to break it to you, but someone needs to let you know: that book in your head, waiting to be written? It’s not a book. It’s just a jumble of ideas that are waiting to be untangled as you put the words on the page. Books only exist in written form. So, start small. A word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, and before you know it: a book.
So, what about you?
What do you need to start today?
Start small, but start!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joel Ohman is a serial entrepreneur, author, and angel investor. He is the author of the bestselling Meritropolis Trilogy—“The Hunger Games meets The Village”—the founder of CarInsuranceComparison.com, Exercise.com, and a number of digital media startups. He lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Angela and their three kids. His writing companion is Caesar, a slightly overweight Bull Mastiff who loves to eat the tops off of strawberries. You can connect with Joel at JoelOhman.com.