You are at the beginning of the quest to build a sustainable, enduring company.
The business idea is being vetted and market validated. You are energetic and driven. No mountain is too high to climb. You view the world as exciting and the opportunities as endless. You are a strong conceptual thinker, able to see the forest beyond the trees. You see clearly when others do not. The entrepreneurial spirit shows strongly in the way you approach life and business. The opinions you hold are strong, reflecting a confidence few others possess. Because of this self-assurance, others may see you as stubborn and sometimes even egotistical.
Because your company is at the beginning of its journey, there is much to do. To this point, most of your time has been spent building and reshaping your business idea. You have spent endless days and countless meetings with potential customers pitching, getting business refusals and re-pitching the business. It’s likely that you are the sole employee or at most, have banded together with one or two others. You work long hours with little return. Despite that, there is a spirit of adventure and camaraderie. If you do have partners, it’s likely that they have skills that complement yours.
Your company mimics your personality and style. You run everything by the seat of your pants. The company has no formal processes and everyone wears many hats. The business is structured around the people involved in it. Your market and product knowledge is largely intuitive and anecdotal. Opinions and processes and even products can turn on a dime – and often do in response to customer whim. You do no planning. You are likely living from order to order.
At this stage of development, the future is yet to be written, so remaining open to ideas is critical. Experimentation is at its peak. You are building an informal advisory group to help you in developing areas. You use informal networks, and customers, to fine-tune business ideas and prospects. Also through trial and error, you are perfecting your “pitch.” Pricing is being tested, as are a number of other business processes. Distribution, production and customer service processes are all in flux. Feedback on your offerings and go-to-market processes is extremely important.
As with any organism, your business has the most tenuous hold on life at this early stage. Landmines and threats are everywhere. The most critical element, the lifeblood, is CASH! If you have it, you survive. The greatest threat to any early-stage business is lack of cash to run the business.
Another landmine: perfectionism. Endless tinkering and stalling to make ideas perfect delays sales that are critical both for the cash infusion and for the market feedback they can bring. You won’t get it right the first time. Forget about it. Nike said it best: Just do it! The market will teach you how to adjust your products and services.
There are many other threats: Your own inexperience. Venture capitalists who don’t share the vision of the company and drive it too hard. Mistakes that blow up the liquidity in the business. Founders who lose patience. Lack of focus – the “shiny object” syndrome that many early businesses and entrepreneurs face. Flawed ideas. Poor market knowledge. Overzealous discounting to get business. Poor planning.
Few businesses survive this formative stage.