Startups – Don’t Shoot From The Hip

July 20, 2012

In your everyday life, how many times have you tried to do something half way and learned it would have been easier if done the right way from the beginning?

My daughter hates to read instructions. She will build a model or assemble a new toy by “intuition”. Sometimes she goes forward one step and back two throughout the entire build. Sometimes she spends hours with no hitch until she gets to the end and has to take the entire project apart because she made one mistake early one. I can’t tell you how many times she has done this. Her particular affliction might be laziness, pride, or maybe she just likes the challenge and discovery of it all.

I am guilty of doing similar things due to being cheap. When I was twenty three and bought my first house, I decided I would shovel the driveway instead of paying to have it plowed. A slipped disc and many blisters later, I learned that was not the most efficient choice. Later I would build things instead of buying them. Each one ended up costing twice as much money and ten times as much time with the added insult (and monetary pain) of having to go buy the thing in the end anyway.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has done multiple studies that say half (give or take) of new business fail. I have also read dozens of top ten lists for the reasons that new business fail. Every single item on those lists traces back to poor planning and preparation. Like me and my daughter, entrepreneurs jump into their startup idea and just start DOING. Some do it because they are too lazy to plan and it’s just more fun to start shooting. Others know they have to plan but don’t know how and are too cheap or broke to pay someone to help them. In a recent poll we created, 50% of the respondents said shooting from the hip cost them between $10k and $20k. The other 50% lost more!

Most entrepreneurs go forward before thoroughly assessing their startup idea. How much has shooting from the hip cost you?
Under $1,000
$1,000 – $10,000
$10,001 – $20,000
$20,001 – $40,000
Over $40,000

Okay so What Do I Do?
Everyone always talks about “business plans”. There are people you can hire to do a generic plan, software, templates, and millions of article and advice. But the real value of a business plan is NOT the pretty spiral bound report at the end. Sure that is what you need to get a loan. But for purposes of really understanding your business and possibly gaining a venture capital investment, the finished product is of little value.

It’s the process of doing the plan that provides the value. The only way to truly prepare to start a business without being half-cocked is to have a professional walk you through a Feasibility Study (psychographics, SWOT, competition, proforma’s, etc.) and force you to answer all the tough questions about your business. The ones you can’t answer are the most valuable. They will force you to do research and engage in the dreaded “gut check” where you are faced with a negative you didn’t want to know existed.

These questions that make you work so hard and raise self-doubt serve to really give you an intimate understanding of your business and ALL the outside influences. You will know the six different things that can happen, the odds of each, and what to do for every one of them. You will be prepared for the things that pop up instead of surprised. You will be calm and in control instead of twisting your guts every night worrying. You will have the next closest thing to a crystal ball for your startup. Your funding package will be as bullet proof as possible. You will be empowered in knowing EXACTLY what to do AND why. That… is the power!

Efficiency and Value
What the SBA studies don’t tell you about the failed businesses is that those entrepreneurs are typically destroyed both emotionally and financially with no insurance and a huge pile of debt. Our studies show that most waste between $20,000 and $40,000 plus months to years of wasted time “shooting from the hip” before they ultimately fail.
I had an interesting “debate” with a forty time serial entrepreneur on Linkedin last week. He responded in disagreement with my initial posting about how bad it is to shoot from the hip. To summarize our lengthy chat, he was basically saying that taking the whim and chance out of startups is both unrealistic and stifling to creativity and enthusiasm. He saw the process I describe above as bureaucratic waste of time.

I always say most fights and divorces are caused by misunderstandings. I clarified that my intent was not to stifle anything. A good feasibility study and business plan simply helps entrepreneurs who don’t have the experience of someone who has done it forty times. Most importantly, if the “doing” process is done in an educational way, the entrepreneur emerges prepared for battle. They are trained to swat down objections with well thought out and articulate answers. Even if they get an objection they haven’t specifically trained for, their basic training kicks in and they are able to defend their business.

If these studies can prevent an entrepreneur from making one mistake WITHOUT losing the lesson that mistake would teach… then he/she is improved, educated, and saved money! That’s the goal. As intelligent adults, we start to learn the value of doing things right the first time around. Do yourself a favor and spend $2,500 to $5,000 to know EXACTLY what to do and why. That is the value!