The New Year is always a great time to reflect on the many challenges and successes we've had, and of course, set some new goals for the future. At the turn of 2008, I decided I was going to become an entrepreneur and made that my key New Year resolution. The problem was that I really had no idea how or where to get started. Since then, I've learned a lot and mostly by trial and error. Now, I'm now on my fourth venture (I've documented my ventures on my personal website if you're interested: tonynavarro.me). To wit, I wanted to share some of my key lessons on getting started for those aspiring entrepreneurs who have decided to make 2012 the year of entrepreneurship.
- Ideate. When I tell people I'm an entrepreneur, they usually reply "that's great, I'd do it myself if I found THE idea." The truth is that you don't need a revolutionary concept to start a business. Sure, having a breakthrough idea might jazz you up -- it's always exciting to be a pioneer. But if you're serious about becoming an entrepreneur you'll be driven by the opportunity, as mundane as it may seem. Entrepreneurs look for inefficiencies, unmet needs, gaping holes in wants and needs both at corporate and individual levels. If you're a new mom, you'll have keen insight into baby care; if you're a college student, you'll know of great ways to save money. Keep a journal of problems, question the status quo, and jot down ideas as you get them.
- Stop pondering. If entrepreneurship has a right of passage: Learning to take that first leap of faith and put ideas into action. Initially, questions will far outweigh facts, data, and answers. Will this work? Why hasn't someone already done this? Is the market large enough? How can I build this? These are all fair questions and should serve as a roadmap for your next steps. But these questions shouldn't be a justification for inaction. Paralysis by analysis is a very real threat when starting a new venture. If you get caught in the weeds you'll never take that first step.
- Start making. How do you go from a napkin sketch to a product? Only by doing. While uncertainty is daunting when you start your venture, the good news is that you'll mitigate risks as you obtain data and information on the idea. The cheapest and fastest way to get great initial feedback is free: talk about the idea with customers and suppliers. You don't need a completed product to get feedback! Be resourceful: glue things together if it's a product, simulate it if it's a service, make some slides if it's a website. A quick word on paranoia: the first couple of times I had a great idea, I was too paranoid to share it with others and missed out on key feedback. Unless your idea is so easy to build, or is a breakthrough concept, you should feel comfortable sharing the concept. The odds that someone likes your idea enough to pursue it are really (really) small; you're probably more likely to find potential investors by sharing the concept.
- Don't be trigger-happy. Only start developing a product when you feel confident enough with the idea based on the facts you've collected. I can't tell you how many people jump straight into spending money before validating the concept. The immediate satisfaction of starting to build the real product is tempting, but remember, the more you learn the more you progress; building a product doesn't always generate the best bang for your effort (or your buck). If you're hiring others to develop the product for you, do your homework diligently and make sure they are trustworthy and capable. If you rely solely on others to implement your business, you might want to consider bringing on a partner that can complement your skill-set.
- Have patience and courage. New businesses face an infinite number of challenges, but you are the biggest obstacle. Creating a new business takes time, which means you'll need to prepare for the long journey and surround yourself with people that can support you when the going gets tough. From a personal perspective, I've given up way too early on concepts that had strong potential. Years later and many dollars spent, I realize that the most successful entrepreneurs are those that understand a house is built on strong foundations and brick by brick. We often hear stories about companies that are overnight successes, but I assure you there are many years of sweat and tears behind the curtains of that success.
Here's to a new year and another chance to start things up!
Tony Navarro is founder and CEO of Streamcal, a venture that redefines the way schedules and calendars are published, shared and consumed across the web. He is originally from Colombia and strongly believes in the power of entrepreneurship to generate economic growth. He holds an MBA from Wharton and an MPA from Harvard, and currently lives in Boston with his wife. He is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.