When I was 22, fresh out of university, I set out to start a business. I spent a lot of time creating a company brand, thinking about the management structure, writing the marketing plan. The type of stuff you do at uni to get grades, which isn’t the type of stuff that creates value.
I also entered a competition for capital, the requirements of which were pretty extensive. In the end I spent more time fulfilling the competition’s criteria with my 100 page business plan than I did looking into the practicalities of the business. I didn’t get the funding and soon after realised there was a legal roadblock that meant the idea wasn’t viable in the form I’d spent so long planning for anyway.
I vowed after that to never “start a business” again. In fact, I realised this phrase is actually a misnomer. Businesses only exists to support a product or service. To create a business, I first needed to create a product.
A bit over a year ago, I had what I thought was a good idea. I started working on the business details and then stopped myself for fear of repeating history.
I went tunnel vision on building the product. I didn’t worry about a company for it, I just wrote code. No business plan. No legal entity. I focused on nothing but code for around 6 months. After that, I was coming close to having something to release, so I spent a day registering a legal entity under a name I liked. Then I got back to writing code.
When I was making excuses for not going out on Friday nights or why I was awake at 3am, I rarely said I was “starting a business”. I said “I’m working on a project”. It didn’t get me as much respect when blowing off social events, but the simple semantic difference was important for me. It kept me focused on what mattered – the project.
From Project to Product
I’ve now released my project into the wild. People are using it and I recently had a great idea of how I could build on it to create revenue. Soon it will be a product, or a service to be precise.
The business essentials have gradually fallen into place along the way. A company and product name and bootstrap marketing strategy have all come from spending late nights thinking about those things. While my productive hours have focused purely on creating the project. I’m getting to a stage where some planning will be very helpful, but I’m glad I didn’t plan at the outset. Too much has changed along the way.
I don’t think I’d actually have made it this far if I planned to make it this far.
The Bonus Prize
The bonus in focusing on the project is flexibility. The current incarnation of my project is broadly inline with the original idea, but the specifics are completely different to how I thought they would take shape. Also, the service I will now build on it is something I’d never have conceived in the beginning. It’s actually solving a problem I only encountered when building the project.
Its been said before, but flexibility is incredibly valuable. The less planning the more flexibility. The more you invest in the idea in a certain form, the less likely you are to let that idea change form. And it must change form.
The moral of the story, don’t start a business at the start. Build a project or product, find customers and then start a business.