Thinking about starting a company?

ideaI have had two failed attempts at building a company; one of them where we raised a seed fund, but were not able to prove that the product works.

So I was thinking the other day – if I have to start another company, what would I do differently? What would I consider before taking the leap?

Here are 3 aspects that I would consider before I would jump into starting my own company:

  1. Not a feature, but a product
  2. Not an idea, but a company
  3. Audacious goal

Let me explain each of these:

  1. Not a feature, but a product

Every now and then, when I am in the Caltrain or taking a walk, I get an idea, which I consider brilliant (obviously! just kidding). I could actually go and test each of these ideas by following the lean startup methodology. But would it be feasible to test each one of these? Maybe not. When I think a little more about it, the idea seems more like a feature rather than a product. Most of the times, these could be just product features that can be added on existing apps. For example, we tested a service that can help taxi drivers to deliver packages in their spare time. In hindsight, it seems like an add-on service for companies like Uber or Lyft. In fact, Uber is already experimenting with this service to see if there is any sustainable business model there. If your idea seems like just a feature and not a product, I recommend thinking hard about your idea, and see if there is a bigger problem that you can solve.

  1. Not an idea, but a company

Many a times, people fall in love with their ideas without considering the business model involved. Their justification – “Facebook did not have any revenues for a long time. Instagram still doesn’t”. But business model does not just mean making money. It also means how you are going to build a company in a sustainable manner. And it includes other things like

  • Unique value proposition – Do you have a path to create strong network effects quickly like Facebook, LinkedIn? Do you have IP and patents like Google or Apple?
  • Strong partners – Do you have an exclusive deal with a big company such as Walmart or Google that will help you launch?
  • Distribution channels – Have you figured out unique distribution channels that are not easy to crack for other companies or your competitors?

These aspects make an idea a company. An idea is a great start, but if you don’t think about it from building a company perspective, it will most probably fail.

  1. Audacious goal

I personally like lean methodology. It gives some structure to an otherwise chaotic process. But I have seen people taking it to the other extreme. Lean methodology advocates on focusing on your primary use case and asks you to be laser focused on solving problems for that use case. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t think about the ultimate goal. Without audacious goals, you wouldn’t have a company. Without audacious goals, you won’t have a vision, and for sure, you won’t be successful in the long term. If you cannot grab 80% of the market share, you will most probably fail and guess what, it is audacious for a startup to think about grabbing 80% of the market share. So I would say – “Be Bold. Be Audacious.”

I would recommend everyone to read “Zero to one” by Peter Thiel to learn about how to think about business ideas. And if you think this is just another book on entrepreneurship, Peter Thiel is the founder of Paypal and Founders Fund that has invested in moonshot ideas such as Facebook, Airbnb, Lyft, SpaceX, Oculus, Stripe, ZocDoc etc. and all of these companies have been wildly successful.

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