Something I don’t see a lot of people talking about when they talk about startups is the fact that, if you’re trying to do it right, you’re really building three things at once:
1. An initial product or service.
2. A company.
3. A brand.
Of course they are all connected quite a bit, and for maximum success you must execute on all three at the same time, but they really are three different things. Each requires it’s own unique set of skills and focus to have any real chance at getting it right.
Building an initial product or service requires focusing on the problem.
Almost everyone (in the tech. space) focuses on building an initial product or service first. If you’ve got a tech. background (like me), it’s the easiest of the three things to do. It’s also the most ‘sexy’ thing for people to latch onto at the start.
But having an initial product or service alone is not actually enough…and I think this is where 90% of entrepreneur’s slip up at the start. They think building the MVP is all that really matters, that it’s the whole game…but really it’s just table stakes.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve built hundreds of products and services. None have become companies on their own.
Statsfeed, which was a successful business-to-business web service I built, was probably the closest one as 99% of the company/effort was on the service (but it still required the other 1% of company and brand building before it found success)
Building the company requires focusing on relationships.
Sure there are at least a few legal things, and always mountains of paperwork, that you need to do to 'officially’ start a company…but really, I think 99% of building a company is really about building the team and the partnerships.
You really only do that by building relationships and leveraging the relationships you’ve built over the course your life (and then leveraging the relationships those you bring in have built over their lives and so on and so forth).
As soon as you start thinking about moving beyond the 'idea’ phase for any project…you should be thinking about the team that you *must* build. How well that aligns with the team you actually *could* build will go a long way in telling you just what sort of chance you actually have at executing on this 'idea’.
Just like your MVP, a team of some sort, is table stakes. If you can’t build a team, you can’t build a company.
But remember there are lots of ways to think about your team and your relationships. So I don’t mean that you need to have staff or even co-founders to be a *real* company. You just need a way to get more done than one resource (yourself) can allow for…and you need to have (reasonable) plans on how you grow those resources as the company scales.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve believe I’ve helped build five small companies on this front (Corry Publishing, Falicon Programminc Inc., Reviews.com, Statsfeed, and PubGears). Of the five, Statsfeed and Falicon Programming Inc. where the only two I 'owned’ - and were by far the least successful of the bunch.
Statsfeed was only a team of two and we never had plans to expand the team (and ultimately the company hit a scaling issue/decision – and that was the ultimate reason we closed it down).
Falicon Programming Inc. was mostly just a legal entity to allow me to do freelance work and play with my own various 'ideas’ (that I hoped might turn into companies). I attempted to build the team up briefly around the Draftwizard idea but did not really have a solid plan around this and again it ultimately saw very limited success (and I eventually closed it down and started Dig Down Labs LLC to serve as my legal entity for 'projects’).
Coach Wizard is the company I’m currently focused on building. This time around, I’m focusing a massive amount of my early efforts on building the team (it actually has 4 co-founders, a handful of friendly resources, and we have already started to identify and define a growth plan around the team we need/want as we scale).
Building a brand requires focusing on emotion.
Of the three, this is the 'softest’, and most difficult to quantify, thing you need to be working on…but also just might be the most profitable thing in the long term (if you get it right).
Once you’ve got a real brand, you’ll have almost unlimited opportunity (#1) for your team (#2) to execute against.
But building a brand means first REALLY understanding your market and the customer of your initial product. What really drives and motivates them?
Once you understand that, you’ve still got to make sure everything you do falls in line with (and stays true) to that.
Technically you *can* build something successful without building a brand…but I believe you’ll only find short term, limited success that way.
So again as soon as you start thinking about moving beyond the 'idea’ stage, you should start to think about how you can build this brand for the long haul.
In every hack that I start, I think a lot about branding and the 'story’ behind it. About what emotional state I want the user to be and what emotion I want to pull out of the user.
But honestly I feel as though I’m still an extreme *novice* on this front (and so it’s one of the ares I’m excited to develop, explore, and grow within more as I build Coach Wizard).
So these are just high level thoughts about at how I look at the three parts of trying to build something successful (and specifically how I’m approaching Coach Wizard).
There are certainly many more needs and requirements to execute properly on within all three of these things (and in tandem).
Only time will tell how this approach will turn out - but so far I’m loving the process and our progress!
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
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