Many people think that launching a website is an integral first step to opening your business. The site is live, and bam you’re official.
I would like to suggest that is a bit like putting up walls and doors in a new house before you have laid the concrete foundation and built the inner structure.
In reality, there are some very critical offline activities you need to take on before you launch yourself into the online world – if you intend to create a business that is unique, sustainable, and meaningful to others, that is.
A business is more than just a web presence. Creating a company is like building an extension of yourself (as a founder), out to the world. Therefore, being clear about who you are and what you desire to create for others is just as important as the product or service itself. To boot, deeply understanding who you serve and how you meet their needs in a significant way is crucial to getting anyone to hand their money over to you.
The good news is that there are many tools, exercises and experiments out there to support the creating of this foundation. It doesn’t have to take eons. If you adopt the mindset of a scientist in the startup lab who is out to discover, test and synthesize key data about how you can formulate a lasting business, you can hit the ground running.
To get started, put on your lab coat and dive in with the 5 questions:
1. Why are you doing this?
I mean really…why? Go deep and reflect on what your answer would be because this is far and above the most critical question.
Businesses that thrive do so because they are serving something much bigger than creating a paycheck. So what’s your raison d’être? What is the impact you want to see take place in the world because your business exists? And how exactly do you help us get there?
2. What need do you serve?
Companies become successful when they fill a deep and compelling need in others. Get to know what real problem you are solving for your customers, and be able to talk about it clearly and articulately.
Chat with some potential users and capture their own words to describe how they see the issue (and the value in your solution!). Check out a User Empathy Map, from the Design Thinking toolkit, for a great approach to uncovering real human needs you serve.
3. How are you uniquely equipped for this work?
No one else is quite like you, and that’s powerful.
What about you makes this company a beautiful fit for you to create What are your strengths? What point of view do you have that brings a fresh and powerful solution to the table? What qualities in yourself will you lean on to get through hard times?
Check out the VIA Character Strengths survey to get a comprehensive assessment of where you thrive as a person. Be sure to integrate these strengths and your natural uniqueness into what you’re building. No one else can copy that.
4. Will people use what you’re selling, and will they pay for it?
This is pretty important to figure out, especially early on.
The best way to find this out is to create a very (very) rough version and test it out! It’s wise to avoid an official launch until you have piloted & tested your product/ service/ experience out. Rough & ready “prototypes” are completely acceptable – and even tiny experiments is better than nothing.
You’ll gain incredible insight and uncover meaningful iterations to shift your idea to have more effectiveness once it’s live. Plus you’ll likely get a few people already interested in what you’re up to. Read up on the Lean Startup & Design Thinking approach to prototyping for some tools in this stage.
5. Are you ready for a journey?
Starting a company requires a pretty large move outside of your zone of comfort. Innovation doesn’t happen on a linear path, so it’s time to start re-adjusting how you view success and what you expect to feel along the way.
This adventure is full of twists, turns, backwards steps, ambiguity, embarrassments, humbling moments. Be ready to check your ego at the door if you want to enjoy the ride.
In assisting that process, take a look at Tal Ben-Shahar’s “Being Happy for helpful nuggets on how to let go of perfectionism (which has no room in the entrepreneurial journey) and live from a place that is grounded in optimalism. You’ll be more effective AND you’ll actually enjoy the process. Because that is what this whole adventure is about really!
If you’re wise, you will spend some time laying that foundation for your business before you throw the walls and doors on. When you do invest in these pieces, the structure your house is built upon will be strong enough to withstand the weather and come through in a solid place.
Want to learn more about the Mind Into Matter approach? Check out “Life Lab”, a new program to help you learn how to align who you are with what you do. It’s amazing what happens when you really plug in to yourself.
Allie Armitage is founder of Mind Into Matter, an entrepreneurial design firm that empowers clients to unlock their drive and motivation and apply entrepreneurial tools to build their life around it. She is an adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland, leads Design Thinking workshops at General Assembly and across DC, and she coaches clients one-on-one to apply these tools to create a meaningful, aligned life.
In 2007 Allie co-founded a station-less bike sharing company, weBike, where she gained her appetite for entrepreneurship and learned how to use the tools of design in a tangible business. Afterward worked at the Entrepreneur’s Organization and Netcito to gain deeper insight into the inner leadership journey for entrepreneurs. Now she teaches, coaches, and facilitates to inspire others to create their own path, and enjoy the journey.