Mike Tyson, responding to a reporter’s question about how he was going to counter his opponent’s strategy going into the fight.
Plans and process are important. But what really matters is how you’ll adapt when your plans and process break down, which they will.
Entrepreneurship is one of the things that makes this moment in history really special — we’re at a point in time where technology is disrupting everything we know about the world and, as a group, the entrepreneurs who are building that technology right now are going to leave a mark our great-grandchildren will learn about in school. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. But should you be one of those entrepreneurs, in the true sense of someone who starts a brand new company from zero? It’s a personal choice, of course, but how should you even start to frame that question to yourself? I think it’s important to be really honest and ask yourself “Why do I want to do this?”. It’s going to be a struggle with daily peaks and valleys, so you need to have your answer to that question really honestly defined.
The obvious disclaimer here is that I’ve never started a company from scratch myself. I have been fortunate enough to be there for the journey from 3-4 people up to 150 (where TC is now) and watch a founder from a few feet away along the whole way. And I’ve thought a lot about whether I want to start a company from zero myself one day, either as my next step or sometime down the line. From all of that, I keep coming back to these four potential reasons, at least for my own evaluation. Not all of these reasons are necessarily good reasons, by the way, but it’s really your call which of these are enough for you.
Those are four possible reasons to start a company. It’s up to each of us to decide which of these is good enough.
When we were just getting started at Trunk Club, we needed to validate our model and do it fast. That meant getting customers and revenue in the door one way or another. We didn’t have any salespeople or marketing, or much of a product, for that matter. Brian, our CEO, gave me a challenge — find 10 customers in my first week and convince them to buy clothes from us.
I fancied myself a pretty smart, scrappy guy at the time — but I was really uncomfortable selling. Most smart, ambitious people want their work to speak for itself, rather than having to “ask for favors”, but the early stages of entrepreneurship are a lot about convincing other people to take a risk on you and help the cause. Whether it’s early customer acquisition, fundraising, or recruiting, you can’t succeed if you don’t learn how to put yourself out there and ask for help.
I took Brian’s challenge and reached out to about 75 potential customers in my network. I told them I wanted their help getting our company off the ground. Many of them never responded to my emails and voicemails (ouch). A handful of them might have been annoyed at me (oh well). But within a few days, I had leads on about 20 customers that became an important part of our revenue that first quarter.
Selling and asking for help aren’t as sexy and talked about as a lot of what you hear about in startup blogs, but I’d argue they’re the most important part of building a company (thanks Brian). Recently, I found myself reaching out to an acquaintance who I thought could connect me with a potential designer recruit. Instead of feeling shy about it, I was honest: “We need help - would really appreciate anything you can do”. He made the connection. I’m glad I asked.