Boot-strapping and butt-kicking your way to success
by David Muise
You are going to want to take this story with a grain of salt. Maybe even get the whole shaker out. Starting a business is a messy business filled with funny business. At least in my case it was. So, while others have had different experiences, this is what I can tell you about the entrepreneurial life.
MONEY! It’s the first thing on everyone’s mind starting a business. You know what? Screw money! At least at the beginning. What you need are knowledge, a Business Model Canvas, and a Minimum Viable Product. These are easier than you think to get, don’t cost much, and once you have them you and money will most likely intersect.
KNOWLEDGE! The Holy Grail, really. Regardless of what you’re making, coding, starting, or buying the information you need is readily available. Connect yourself with people who are good at what you’re trying to do. Or even people that are bad at it to learn from their mistakes. When reaching out to others, spend your time formulating good questions instead of trying to figure out answers you don’t know. Also, pick up the phone and call someone who is an expert, even if you don’t know them or have never met them. A couple good questions will get people’s attention and show them you are serious about your idea. Also, use scholar.google.com for peer-reviewed journal access, MIT’s (yes, that MIT) Open Access portal for videos, audio, simulations, and lecture notes- it’s free, and type “(whatever your business idea is) case study” into google. Also, get a library card. With it, you can log in to most Maine Public Library systems and get access to huge databases of demographics, sales information, regional trends and all sorts of info you’d pay others to get for you.
BUSINESS MODEL CANVAS! This is like your business plan. Yeah, don’t do business plans- few do anymore, but you’ll want some sort of document to show the paper-pushers when that time comes. Plus, a Business Model Canvas will act like a fluid document, changing as you go and learn more, offering you the ability to recalibrate and test your own hypotheses. Google “Business Model Canvas” and whatever you do, don’t pay for one- they are easy to make and there’s plenty of free downloadable versions. Fill it out, change it often and show it to those asking for your business plan.
MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT (MVP) This can also be considered a prototype or beta version. This is where you use what you’ve learned and actually do or make your idea. If you’re struggling with some part of this like manufacturing or 3D printing or some technological aspect, don’t fret. For technology problems try using a freelancer service like UPWORK.com. You can ask anyone, pretty much anywhere in the world to help you, say, code a custom shopping cart or build a website or do CAD designs or anything, really. For prototyping, try The Engine in Biddeford. It’s a non-profit where you can get 3D prints done very inexpensively. Oftentimes, manufacturing problems can be offset by generating 3D prints before committing to expensive molds. Get your designs and prints in order before engaging with a manufacturer to save time and money.
Finally, go out into the world and engage with your potential customers. Try your product and pitch on your friends and family and ask them to be brutal in their feedback- you’re a hardscrabble entrepreneur by now, you can take it. Go to an industry associated event or trade show and test the idea out there. Ask people what they’d be willing to pay for it- this will help you understand pricing in the future. Take what you learn and start this process over again- knowledge, Business Model Canvas, and Minimum Viable Product. After a couple of trials, you will have a new network of people that have interacted with your product (save all their contact info as they will become your “early adopters”), lots of data, and a product that’s ready to go to market. That’s when you’ll most likely need the money. And, that’s a whole other blog post.
See also: Fueling The Entrepreneurial Spirit