So I’ve just settled back home after making it through my first 3 Day Startup program. Where to start?! It may not seem like there would be much to share after only 3 days, but trust me – the amount of experience, insight, caffeine, and motivation that the 3DS facilitators and organizers crammed into this weekend is more than amazing — verging on a miracle.
Just a disclaimer before I get into my main weekend takeaways; I came into this program with a few assumptions about what entrepreneur education and the startup world was all about. As an advertising major, with steady B+/A- grades, and someone who can definitely appreciate a vacation or a day off, I never imagined that starting up a company was something I could do. Sure, I critique the bad pitches on Shark Tank, write down random sparks of ideas in my notes, and daydream about what I would create if I had endless money. But if I’m being honest with myself, I always saw founders & CEOs as these crazy motivated, success-hungry geniuses who hit a stroke of wild luck – whether that be a winning lottery ticket or the greatest idea since sliced bread that came to them in a dream. I’d heard the “But you can do anything you set your mind to!” all before, but clearly it never quite sank in. If this weekend has taught me anything, it’s that the “setting your mind to it” part doesn’t have to be this vague, mysterious, secret. With the right guidance, tools, advice, and persistence, you can create something out of nothing, and you can build that something into an empire. 3DS has found a way to take something so varied and complex (like starting a company), and boil it down to the necessities. There’s no exact formula to achieve success, but there are still lessons to be learned and steps to take in order to turn your startup dreams into achievable goals. 3DS pushed us all out of our comfort-zones and by the last day, we had the insight to know our end goals were reachable, and the confidence to be able to continue on our own.
Okay, so to really start things off. My major takeaways:
You know that genius idea you’re waiting for to strike you like lightning and turn you into the next Steve Jobs? Get over it! Don’t put all your stress on waiting for the perfect idea. Instead of searching for genius to strike, look for problems you face in your everyday life. Those things you say to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could order a car on our phones to pick us up?” “I wish there was a way I could rent out my house for a weekend.“ “You know, it would be a lot easier if this bread was pre-cut into thinner pieces.” THAT’S your gold mine. THOSE are your brilliant strokes of genius. So pick a problem you have, and jot down different ways you could go about solving it. Ask other people how they’d solve it. See if you could create something that could solve it for everyone who’s affected. BOOM. *Lightning Strikes*
Scalable, profitable, marketable – these things are all clearly necessary to see your business succeed, but your idea won’t make it off the ground if your pitch isn’t compelling, interesting, and attractive. You might be solving a problem, but people aren’t just going to take your word for it. You have to convince your audience that not only is your solution real, but it will improve lives, and they will be missing out big time if they pass up you and your business. In short, you have to make people want it before trying to convince them they need it.
If you can’t explain what your problem is and how you’re solving it in under a minute, something’s not right. Maybe you just need some rewording, maybe you’re trying to solve too many problems, or maybe your solution is more complicated than it needs to be. Either way, people aren’t going to go out of their way to understand you/your product, and they shouldn’t have to.
The process should feel somewhat repetitive at the beginning. You’re going to make assumptions, and not all of them (okay, probably none of them) are going to be true. Plan it out, test it out, analyze the results, and make smart pivots. Then you have to test again, re-analyze, pivot. Test, analyze, pivot, you get the idea. The more times you repeat, the more efficient, dependable, and helpful your creative solution becomes. And by ‘test’ I don’t mean sending out a survey to your friends and family. Quantitative research is important, but qualitative customer discovery research is what really makes the difference. Go outside, talk to strangers, seek out mentors. It’s scary and intimidating but I promise, people are much more willing and enthusiastic about helping you than you think. And if you get a rude response? Well, just think about how dumb the guy who fired Oprah before she made it must feel. You might not have shatterproof self-confidence (is that even a thing?), but what’s important is that you have enough belief and motivation in yourself and your idea to help you through stormy weather. One of my favorite quotes somewhat fits with this idea. “It’s not the storm haters that matter, it’s the way you set your sails ignore them and keep rolling.”
Last but most definitely not least: passion. It has to be there. While starting a company is definitely not impossible, it’s really hard. You’re probably going to come to a point when you ask yourself – why am I doing this when I could just wait for someone else to come along and solve this problem for me? Is it really worth it? Do I care this much? While it’s fine to have doubts along the way – recommended even – it’s important to stay in tune with your own motivations for starting this venture. If your heart isn’t all the way in it, that lack of commitment is going to halt your progress at some point down the road. It’s also important to keep in mind that no matter what, win or lose, you’re still learning, gaining experience, and growing as an individual. “Nothing worth having comes easy.” “Easy come, easy go.” “If it were easy everyone would do it.” The quotes might be overused, but the message still stands.
Overall, a huge takeaway for me this weekend was that you can be an entrepreneur without having any plans to start your own company. While starting a business may not be for everyone, having an entrepreneurial mindset is. Understand the difference, and do some exploring of your own before you assume that it’s not for you. Chances are, you could use the skills that being an entrepreneur requires: creativity, flexibility, empathy, critical thinking, persistence, discipline, and so much more. I know I did, and still do, and I’m proud to now think of myself as an entrepreneur, with or without a successful startup under my belt.