Pick a General Destination
Like embarking on a long, cross country road trip, the idea of starting a business can be intimidating. Some potential entrepreneurs might get bogged down in the details and spend so much time mapping out their journeys turn by turn, they never even leave their driveway.
Look, I’m here to tell you that there’s no need to immediately map out a comprehensive business outline just to get started. No matter how carefully you plan, there will be unexpected twists and turns along the way. You will be hit with detours and roadblocks and speed bumps that are going throw you off course. While you should always have a general destination in mind, the final destination you eventually arrive at, it will almost never be the one you had initially intended for.
In this analogy, your final destination is having a profitable business that you love.
The first step, just get started, all you need is a general direction. For example, let’s say you’re in New York City and want to drive to Los Angeles. You should automatically know that your first step is to hop on the interstate and head west. In fact, you can get on Interstate 80 and just drive for 1,590 miles before you even need to make a turn!
What this means, is that by the time you need to look at a map, your business road map, you should already be well on your way to your business’s final destination. In business, just like a road trip, the further you go in your journey, the more you will rely on a map. Your business roadmap. Getting started is easy, yet so few people ever even leave the driveway, but eventually need to see as many steps ahead as possible, you need to know what lane to be in, so you can make the proper turns, so traffic isn’t blocking you from missing your exit, but at the very beginning, you really only need to know your next two or three turns.
Most importantly, you need to pick a general destination and know which way to turn when you pull out of your driveway!
But, before you pull out of your driveway to start you cross county road trip aka launch your business, there are a few things you need to do
You need an engine with wheels.
Before you can go anywhere, you need the bare necessities that are necessary to get the ball rolling. On a road trip, that’s a vehicle. In a business, that’s your minimum viable product.
Let me use a car analogy to explain what a minimum viable product is!
When you’re choosing a car to take on this road trip, what do you actually need? You need an engine that can reliably get you there. You don’t want it to break down ½ way there.
You NEED 4 decent tires that aren’t going to go flat or blow out on you while doing 80 down the interstate. A spare tire is recommended, but what if you cant afford it? Are you going to cancel the road trip because you don’t have a spare? Some people absolutely would. And justifiably so, but I wouldn’t.
I’m a risk reward type of guy. If I were in this situation, here is how I would look at it. Do I have AAA or roadside assistance through my insurance? Do I have enough money to fix the problem if it happens? How good are the 4 tires I do have? If I don’t spend on the spare, and I make it to LA, what could I spend the money when I get there? If I can save that money, can it be put into my business later when it could drive revenue?
On the flip side, if I do get a flat tire, it’s absolutely going to slow me down not having a spare, and it could very likely cost me more money in the moment to have the tire fixed.
What about other bells and whistles?
Leather seats, cruise control, shoot you don’t even need air conditioning!
What about a radio?
Sure, listening to The Highway on Sirius XM would make the trip a lot more enjoyable, but you don’t HAVE to have it!
If you have an engine and 4 good tires, you’re good to go.
This is the Minimum Viable Product of a car.
When you’re getting started with your business, your product doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t need every bell and whistle. You just need the minimum amount required to start generating revenue.
Don’t waste your money creating a polished product or platform when first entering the market, because like we already covered, your destination may change and you wasted all that money on bells and whistles you didn’t need.
To quote Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
Putting it in out analogy here, you should absolutely be embarrassed by the car you are driving!
You need enough money to get there!
Even with a car that can get you there, if you don’t have enough money to get there, you’re not going to make it.
Before embarking on a road trip, you need to be familiar with some variables. Thing like how many miles your vehicle can go on a gallon of gas and just how much is a gallon of gas,?
And what about other expenses? Snacks, drinks, sleeping? What are your plans?
As a startup, with a limited budget, determined to get to your final destination, you need to be saving every penny you can. Find someone with a Sam’s Club membership, and stock up on snacks and drinks before you hit the road.
And when you get tired, I recommend you let your co-pilot drive while you get some sleep in the passenger seat! Oh, who’s this co-pilot I’m talking about? Don’t worry, we will talk that next!
Gas, Food, Sleeping, we can plan all those things out. But what about the things we cant plan for?
What if your car breaks down and you don’t have the money to repair it?
If you don’t plan out your budget carefully before you get started, there is a good chance you’ll never make it to your destination. In business, this is called a runway. How much money you have and need to get off the ground… aka generating revenue.
When starting a business, you need to be familiar with your product offering and be able to roughly estimate how much it will cost to get your company off the ground. You should keep all expenses in mind before setting out, and once you’re on the road, you should budget carefully in order to make sure your business does not prematurely fail.
Ok, let’s talk about that co-pilot!
When going on a road trip, just like when starting a business, it’s a lot more fun having a co-pilot / co-founder.
And if you pick the right person, it’s not only more fun, it can be easier, faster, and less of a financial burden!
Having the right partner on a road trip means you don’t have to be behind the wheel the entire time, you can take turns driving the car, you’ll have someone to encourage you, to keep you motivated, you’ll have someone to talk to because trust me, sometimes the entrepreneurial journey is lonely and it’s hard to find people who can genuinely relate to what you’re going through, you can bounce ideas off of your co-pilot or they can help you navigate, and let’s not forget one of the most crucial things, they bring monetary resources to the table. They can split the startup cost, ease the financial burden.
But I can’t emphasize enough, you have to pick the perfect partner. And it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially in business.
You need a partner whose driving doesn’t scare you, they don’t snore when they’re napping, you don’t hate their taste in music and your skills complement each other, like if you can’t drive at night but they enjoy it.
You might have people in your life, friends or family, that you love, but that doesn’t mean they would make a good co-pilot!
But remember, a co-pilot isn’t necessary. I’ve done it both ways. I’ve had cofounders and I’ve started businesses alone. Personally, my preference is having the right co-founder by my side, encouraging me, keeping me on course, and perhaps most importantly, having fun!
Expect the setbacks – don’t sweat them.
According to Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Now, this doesn’t always apply, but you should prepare as if it is. If you plan for the worst, and expect the best, you can position yourself to deal with anything that comes your way.
For example, a flat tire might be a setback, but you should have the resources to get back on the road within an hour or two. You should have a spare tire in the back, and at least one teammate with the skill set to change the tire. If for some reason you don’t have a spare, you should have the money in your emergency fund to fix it.
On a road trip just like when starting a business, there’s going to be setbacks, but what’s most important is remembering the big picture. Even if you’re frustrated, your journey is delayed, or you had to dip into your emergency fund, a flat tire doesn’t change your destination.
Eventually, one setback will turn into two will turn into three will turn into a dozen. You’re going to hit speed bumps, and potholes, and detours along the way, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed, especially alone.
The most important piece of advice is don’t give up, and whatever you do, don’t try going down the same closed road over and over again expecting it to to be open.
Perseverance is one of the most important qualities to have in business. The difference between a successful person and everyone else, is that the successful person kept going.
Now, a quality almost equally as important is creative problem-solving and the mindset that goes with it. For every closed road, there will be a new path forward, for every obstacle you encounter, it’s accompanied by a new opportunity.
If you always keep this in mind, that means your final destination can be fluid, meaning it could change. While in route to what you though was your initial destination, you may quite possibly find something much greater.
Does changing destinations mean you failed your road trip? Absolutely not. As long you reach your destination, and remember, our destination is a profitable company you love, then it was mission success.
Don’t run yourself ragged.
When you first start out, and you have this destination in mind, it’s tempting to power through, and pound pavement, and not rest until you get there, but that’s not good for you or your business.
If you don’t take care of yourself, your response time is slower, you’re not thinking as clearly, and you are bound to make mistakes. You could fall asleep at the wheel, you could crash and cut your road trip short. Similarly, if you sacrifice your rest for the sake of your business, you run the risk of burning out, which would damage both your health and your business.
This is why I encourage you get a partner you trust who can help share the load, OR your going to have to be okay with your business taking off a little more slowly than you’d like. Give yourself a break. Trust me Take it from me, it’s better than the alternative.
The start is simple, but don’t forget to prepare as you get closer to your destination.
While you don’t need much to get started, you do need to be more methodical as you get closer to your destination.
By the time you’re three quarters through a road trip, you should have some of the specifics worked out that you didn’t when you first began. For example, you’ve already dealt with most of the roadblocks and several obstacles, so the picture of your final destination should be materializing. Think of it as getting off the interstate and now having to navigate the packed highways and city streets of Los Angeles. At this point, you should have a detailed map with every turn you will take from where you are at to your final destination, .
Similarly, at this point in your business, you should be looking 20 steps ahead. You should be thinking about what you’re doing a month from now, a year from now, so you can plan and prepare accordingly. As your overhead increases, little mistakes will cost you a lot more money, so it’s important to mitigate that as much as possible.
Most importantly Think of it as an adventure!
In the same way a road trip is an adventure, so is starting a business. You don’t always know what will happen next and every day brings another challenge.
In your exploration you’re gonna learn new things about yourself, learn new things about the world, and come out the other side as a wiser, more experienced person.
Go out there, get started, and remember, be persistent, be consistent, and make sure you are having fun with it!