Have recent reports about LinkedIn’s success reawakened your dreams of building a social network, mobile application or Web-based service? Are you unsure where to start or concerned about the time and money involved? Below are tips for exploring your startup dreams inexpensively. Who knows? You might become a founder of the next hot startup. Or maybe, you’ll just meet interesting people, have fun, and gain valuable business (and life) skills instead.
Observe and Prepare
Attend startup related events. You can find potential partners, funding, and access to prominent members of the startup community. Find events on Web sites like Gary’s Guide and Meetup. If you are in New York during June 6-13, check out Internet Week , a week of more than 100 events from social media seminars to product demonstrations and panel discussions with successful startup founders.
Read technology news and blogs. Start with Techmeme and Techcrunch for startup news; AVC, for startup advice from Fred Wilson, a well-known venture capitalist; Entrepreneurs Roundtable, for information on available resources; Founders Block which covers issues of interest to founders; and, of course, this blog series.
Be prepared to share ideas and receive feedback in public. Competitions offer excellent opportunities to sample the startup experience. However, they require you to share your ideas publicly. If you are concerned about idea theft, consider presenting existing ideas with your own twist (e.g., KAYAK for plastic surgery) until you have consulted a lawyer about protecting your “secret recipe” idea. That said, after attending a few events, you will notice a similarity among technology-based business ideas (e.g., Hotwire and Priceline). Success is determined by a combination of factors including the timing , funding, and execution of an idea.
Obtain Hands-on Experience
Participate in startup launching competitions. You will get to pitch a product idea; assemble a team to produce a working prototype; present the results to a panel of experts; and possibly, build a real business—all within a single weekend. You will learn how to turn your ideas into prototypes, use customer input to improve your product, and construct and present a technology business plan. I competed in, and highly recommend, Startup Weekend because you don’t need to know how to build a prototype or business, on your own, to participate. Your team will have both technical and business talent. See BizPlanCompetitions for a comprehensive list of contests throughout the United States. Some offer significant cash prizes.
Learn to present a business plan succinctly. Within five minutes, you should be able to answer the following questions. What is your product? What problem does it solve? Who are your customers? How will you tell them about your product? Who is on your team? How and when will you make money? How much funding do you need to start (or grow)? And how will the money be spent? Here are more tips from The Hatchery in New York, an organization that hosts pitching contests judged by investors.
Test your product idea with potential customers. Make a basic prototype of your idea. Show or, better yet, sell it to potential customers. Use the positive and negative feedback you receive to improve future versions of your product. This process will help you avoid creating an unwanted product or service. It will also give you a good indication of your ability and desire to pursue your startup dreams. If you choose to continue, you will have a head start on creating a product. This tip borrows from the Lean Startup Method. Here is an online course on it.
The next step is up to you. If you are serious about determining if building a startup is for you, bookmark this blog. It is a tool kit containing links to everything you need to begin. In part two of “Explore Your Dreams: Building a Startup”, I will share tips for new startup founders and more lessons learned from my own startup exploration, including how to locate unpublicized resources (e.g., low cost legal advice from top lawyers, exclusive incubators). Stay tuned.
About the Author
Diony Cespedes, MBA is a financial fitness coach and business strategist. She is the founder of Sole Strivers, a personal finance consultancy that provides coaching, programs, and publications to help individuals reach wealth building goals. She is also the author of Make Your Dreams Happen: 5 Steps to Turn Your Dreams into Realities. Find her on Facebook under Sole Strivers Financial Fitness and follow her on Twitter @solestrivers .