Startup Day #1

Last night I wrote about letting go of procrastinations and making that first step towards your first startup. I’ll try to keep it short because I have a lot of work to do ;-)

Inspiration

You already know the deal here. We’ve all had years and years of exposure to the Web and have seen many ideas come to fruition and many more fail. I present a list of inspirational things I’ve encountered up and until this point:

  • 15 years of browsing the Web and being exposed to good ideas
  • I recently finished reading Tim Ferris’ book, and it inspired me greatly
  • I bought Rob Walling’s book last night (out of fear of not being prepared enough!). But, dammit, I paid $24 for it, and I shall read it. Chapter 1 done.

With Tim’s book behind me (and frankly, already almost mostly forgotten thanks to my terrible information retention) and Rob’s first chapter fresh in my memory, it’s time to roll up our sleeves.

Tips to keep in mind for the future

Here are a few short tips to get started with:
eye on the ball

  • Don’t get side-tracked. Stay consistently productive. Ask yourself “Is what I’m doing right now beneficial to a task/goal?”. Keep you eye on the ball.
  • Take notes and document. Extract useful bits from everything you read and encounter and discard the rest. If your new venture has a recurring theme, a repeating process, make an effort to document the steps. Imagine your clone has to step in and take over – the documentation needs to be readily available.
  • Write better code/sell a simple product. Don’t release something you have to support. Imagine SMS alerts at 3AM, support emails, 1st/2nd line support calls. This is your first venture, so best keep it simple. Even if you release a top-notch product, you will never be done.
  • Work hard, play hard and never kill time. Put away the iPhone when having a pint with your mates. If the book you’re reading sucks, chuck it. Wasting time is bad. Carry a notebook or informative magazine for those odd occasions when you have to queue at the Post Office, unless queue-time is Angry-Birds-on-your-iPhone-time.
  • Learn things relevant to your venture, where it matters. Don’t learn Photoshop and CSS if you’re not a designer – such things can be easily outsourced (think Virtual Assistants and elance). But, you should probably start reading Marketing For Dummies and get yourself familiarised with SEO. Start thinking like a manager (ROI) and an entrepreneur (long-term vision).
  • Don’t mourn your mistakes. Fail fast, learn, and recover quickly. You’re secret weapon as a one-man show is reaction time.

Preparation

Tools

  • Google Docs (for summarising and capturing long-lived data)
  • Evernote (for jotting down ideas, voice memos, photos, and then later porting to Google Docs)

If you’re going to tackle a project, then you need the right tools. I’m going to use Google Docs and Evernote to capture ideas with, keep track of expenditure, capture inspiring articles, etc. One document detailing my goals. One spreadsheet detailing everything I’ve spent on my venture thus far. You can argue the case for tools like Delicious Bookmarks, but Evernote already allows you to capture links. And since we’re trying to stay focused, only “inspirational” links and links relevant to your goals will be saved here. Delicious Bookmarks will be a distraction since you use it to capture other URLs with (oh, Slashdot – how you’ve eaten my time).

Goals

Writing down your goals is the first thing you need to do. My goal is extra cash. More specifically, here’s an excerpt from my Google Doc entitled “Goals”:

Goals:
  Money.
Short term: (3 months)
  * Make £100 per month profit from a start-up
Medium term: (9 months)
  * Make  £500 per month profit from a start-up
Long term: (2 years)
  * Financial independence
  * Location independence
  * Equity (possibly sell a profitable website on flippa.com)
Common:
  * Still have enough time to spend with family and extend our home
    (i.e. possibly turn down lots of opportunities)
  * Self-funded (not venture funded)

Since I already have a day job, I decided to be conservative. £500/month in 9 months time is probably not much, but I’m sure I’ll achieve it. Note that I didn’t put down “To have fun” as a goal; the code I write for my employer provides me with hours of pleasure already, and since I’ve never done the startup thing, I don’t know if it will be fun. Hence cash, but in the Paul Graham sense.

It will be hard

Staying focused will be hard. Put your goals on your bedroom wall. Look at them every day. Share your progress with someone who gives a damn so that you can be somewhat accountable for your progress.

Already I’m thinking that writing about it is a massive waste of time. Earlier, when I wrote about Google Docs and Evernote, I mentioned Delicious Bookmarks and ALMOST got sidetracked finding better alternatives to it. I stopped and thought “Is this necessary?”.

I’ve used Delicious for years, and I don’t care if there are better alternatives AND it isn’t relevant because it’s not in my tool set. Easy. Done. 15 seconds later I’m not distracted and back on track. Since I’m no great writer, I’ve already spent an hour on this post, and I’m panicking, thinking that this is turning into a distraction. But, getting public visibility on my venture will keep me going. I won’t silently give up and find solace in Resident Evil and crisps.

Now what?

I’ve done a lot of writing and, I’m armed with one or two things to do. Future posts will follow a “yesterday; today; tomorrow; lessons learned” format. What I need to do tonight/tomorrow, is:

  • figure out if my idea (behind locked doors for the time being) is viable. I’m taking inspiration from Lindsey Harper and will upload a small survey to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Heck, I may even get a VA (Virtual Assistant) to draw one up for me.
  • start talking to people. A mate of mine recently sold his £600/month “mp3 amplifiers” (talk about niche!) website to an eBayer for £6000. He’s onto his next idea and, I’ve booked a lunch with him to pick his brain. I’m also going to arrange to interview the top execs at the company I work for, especially the marketers.
  • familiarise myself with Google Adwords and SEO – something I’ve been spared thus far as a pure Java developer.

It’s 9h30PM, and I’ve got my work cut out for me. See you on the morrow.