In the excitement of a start-up’s early days it is easy to be bounced all over the place whilst making little real progress. A tool I have used a lot is to encourage the founders to step back and answer a few basic questions. This helps to keep focus and pay attention to the important stuff. The six I favour are:
- Why is the business here?
- What do you really do?
- What does a successful future look like?
- Are you sure you want to go there?
- Who does what in that vision?
- What do you need to make it happen?
There are of course many other questions that start-ups should ask of themselves, and you will find many variations on this theme, but these are ones that work for me.
Why is the business here?
This has become the standard stepping-off point since Simon Sinek’s famous 2009 TED Talk “Start with Why”, and his subsequent books. I strongly recommend them, but it is quite a challenge to get to the bottom of the why question and keep it simple and strong enough that it survives both critical challenge and time.
What do you really do?
Here we come into the territory of the classic elevator pitch. I have written on this before, and have learned that it takes some critical thinking to strip it back far enough to be simple. Founders need flexibility to come up with multiple but similar versions that suit different audiences. Finally, it takes a lot of practice to refine and hone it so it comes naturally whenever needed.
What does a successful future look like?
Now we are into the realms of time travel and imagination. It is essential to have a clear picture of the business at various stages of its evolution. There isn’t just one version of ‘finished’ as the business will probably go through several rounds of financing. For each one investors will expect to be shown the expected results of their contribution to work out the added value or exit path from their investment.
Are you sure you want to go there?
This question is often neglected, but is a timely sanity check for the founders. It is far too easy to get carried away on the art of the possible. Secondary questions check the founder’s assumptions on intent, capacity, market knowledge and the true value of their product to customers, not least of which is ‘how do you know?’ I recommend founders take great care on this before going out for money or bringing other people inside their vision.
Who does what in that vision?
The company that emerges from the founders’ original ideas will need to scale up and be properly organised to succeed. Building on the vision of a successful future, it is now time to break that down into steps along an evolutionary path. Whilst founders may be great at many things, employing people to do things they are not skilled in takes them well outside their comfort zone.
What do you need to make it happen?
And last, but not least, is the pitch question. It isn’t only a question of money, although that is an essential part of the jigsaw. Questions to ask when investing in a start-up will invariably dig deeply into market need and product fit. They will also explore how the money will be used, what resources, assets and materials will be gathered and for what purpose. This is the acid test where everything comes together, and it needs a lot of preparation to walk away smiling.
These core questions form part of the FIRST THIRTY business framework. If you or your company would like to explore these thoughts a little more then please get in touch. Alternatively, you can comment below, subscribe to the site or follow me on LinkedIn to read more of these methods in future content, or even join me on some of the development workshops planned for 2022. More about those in due course.