[Trailer screenshot, from DVD The Ten Commandments, 50th Anniversary Collection Paramount, 2006]
I know what you’re thinking – but that's not what the First Commandment says. This First and greatest of the Ten Commandments of Startups does not mean just go ahead and pull the trigger – run out today and start your startup. The direct admonition of this Commandment is to take the steps NOW to get to the point where you CAN make an intelligent and informed decision whether or not to pull the trigger, and then act on it.
The two greatest impediments that keep nascent entrepreneurs from getting to that point of decision and action are (1) fear of the unknown, and (2) procrastination. The former feeds the latter. While this fear of the unknown of course includes a sense of unease because you know what some of the things you don’t know are, far more powerful is that tiny nagging spark emanating from deep in the reptilian brain: you don’t know what you don’t know. That cautionary small voice is one of our primal evolutionary survival instincts, and of course, should be listened to. But just listening to it never got anyone anywhere, unless you’re a fan of the stopped-clock-is-right-twice-a-day school of thought. What is needed to appease that background warning signal is sunlight – knowledge. That’s why the Dark Ages were "dark" - the light of knowledge went out and things generally stagnated or slid backward. Startups are all about moving us forward, and knowledge can help you still that small voice. Here’s how.
As you find yourself unsure and diverting from making the decision whether or not to start your startup, just remember this simple rule: most cats love tuna (or if you’re a dog person, most canines like treats – it’s a highly adaptable rule). MCLT. This acronym stands for the four basic areas of inquiry you need to shed some light on and answer for the sake of your idea and dream. In most cases, when you have the answers to these questions, you’ll have what you need to make and act on the decision:
MARKET. Is there a market for my product or service? And am I able to access it?
CAPITAL. What amount of money do I need to get to MVP launch (minimum viable product), revenues, and profitability? And do I have access to it? Do I have enough money to live on for at least 6-12 months without a steady paycheck?
LAW. Is my product or service regulated or impacted by federal, state or local laws? And what is that impact? Should I incorporate? (Yes.) And what type of business entity should it be?
TALENT. What is the talent I need (that I don’t have myself – be brutally realistic) to develop and bring my product or service to market? And do I have access to it?
[More on each of these four areas of inquiry when we get to the other 9 Commandments.]
Make the time to address and analyze these four basic issues, and you will be forever grateful you did, either way that you decide. Fail to consider and cover each of these bases, and it will almost certainly be said of you – as was said of the Nazi guy in the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who butted ahead to drink first from what he thought was the Holy Grail - “He chose poorly.”
There is an ancillary application of the First Commandment “Thou Shalt Do It” that must also be mentioned - one that figures largely in the post-trigger-pulling stage after you’ve started up. Do not ever put off facing and dealing with an issue when it arises, no matter how difficult. In fact, especially when it’s difficult. It’s difficult for a reason. It means it’s probably critical. Do it when it first arises. I guarantee you will be glad you did, and sorry if you didn’t. A not-unusual example: you have an employee or contractor in a critical position (or even more difficult, a partner) that you realize isn’t meeting expectations. Chances are the situation – unlike a good French cheese – is not going to improve with time, no matter how much you hope it will. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give this next example. It’s probably a little too graphic, but it’s a very real comparison most of us can relate to. I have always hated to throw-up when I got sick, and usually agonized for long hours while trying my hardest not to. Eventually, though, it always happened. And I always felt better immediately afterward. Why drag out the suffering and get even more sick? It makes no sense at all. Yet in startups it happens all the time with far more serious consequences. It’s happened to every one of you in your work and careers. Remember though, in a startup the earlier on an issue arises, the more damaging the consequences will be if not faced and dealt with immediately.
Thou Shalt Do It. Or as more eloquently put by Ellis “Red” Redding in The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy livin’ – or get busy dyin’.”
[Next in The Ten Commandments of Startups blog series -
The Second Commandment: Harness Thy Ego.]
Copyright 2017 David Eccles Hardy