Start-up Sanity Check

It happened again.  I spent two hours last night catching up with a dear friend/former colleague whom I haven’t spoken with in a couple years.  (We, like many people, recently re-connected on Facebook.)  And I got to hear another fascinating business idea.  In the last two months, I have been honored to be part of 6 such conversations. They are invariably fascinating and I learn something new with each one.

This isn’t something new — I spent many years as an agency person, where part of my job was to get up to speed quickly on a company, and provide feedback on everything from marketing strategy to business strategy.   I frequently spoke with early stage entrepreneurs — sometimes folks who had barely more than an idea.   I contributed to many a business plan.

I’m a marketing person — without even an MBA and, until the last few years, had never worked inside a start-up.  But I’ve always been one of those people entrepreneurs seek out when they want a sanity check.  I’m not exactly sure why.

I’m not a cheerleader.  I had to tell one young man recently that his concept was full of holes and leaking like a sieve.  (He was looking into a kid-focused business and didn’t know the first thing about COPPA; he had no distribution plan and was looking at entering a bloated industry.)

I am not a finance person.  I can’t look at a spreadsheet and instantly determine a financial answer to any problem.  I’m not a management guru.

I am a good listener and I ask good questions.  I read a lot of different things and am curious about everything.  I offer suggestions based on experiences I have had with the companies I have worked with and for.

A very smart friend once told me that he could spend his life just talking with people about their businesses.  His rule is that he’ll meet and talk to anyone for just one hour, then it becomes a consulting engagement and the meter is running.   I myself work for caffeine…

Here are just a few of the questions I think every start-up needs to consider.  There is nothing here that isn’t common sense.  (I’ll save the more insightful comments for when you buy me a cup of coffee…)

  • What problem are we solved?  What need do we fulfill?
  • How are we going to make money?  (And, please don’t talk about why a VC will give you money; think about how you’ll earn money.)
  • What is our specific target audience?
  • Who will we be competing with?

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