This article first appeared on LinkedIn
...and now for something completely different.
For those of you that don't know, for the last year I've been busy creating a different kind of pet food and a different kind of pet food company with Ryan Yamka. Pleased to say that Guardian Pet Food Company will be available in pet specialty retail starting in October. While the journey is only beginning, I thought it would be good to share some of the things I wish someone told me when I started. For those of you that will say, "I told him that," I'll just say that I wish I had listened! Instead of just hopping on a soap box and pontificating, I thought I'd set this article to music, kinda like my own Start-Up soundtrack. If you're thinking about hanging your own shingle or if you are in the middle of a start-up, I hope this list helps. I will always make myself available to answer questions, work through problems or just talk. Part of what I've learned throughout this process can be summarized by the following;
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." - African Proverb
I hope you go far in whatever it is you pursue! Ready?
#10 "Get Ready" by The Temptations
I cannot over emphasize the importance of doing your homework. Looking at your specific industry and target market is understood. What I'm talking about is looking at adjacencies, existing and new technologies and consumer trends. Your ability to find patterns and connections between what is currently offered, what is wanted and what you have to offer is key. This is often referred to as "white space" and finding it is what will give your start-up a better than average shot at succeeding.
#9 "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" by the Spin Doctors
No simple way to serve this one up other than being direct: You're going to be wrong at times so embrace it as a learning opportunity! Don't be so married to your product, packaging or campaign that you don't seek out feedback and sometimes harsh criticism. Separate the chaff from the grain and keep what's worth keeping. I've yet to meet a person that's never been wrong at least once (a week) on something.
#8 "With a Little Help From My Friends" by The Beatles
This is one of those "Really?" comments but your friends, family, business acquaintances...all of them can and will help you. As a start-up you'll most likely be pressed for cash and faced with tasks that require skill sets you may not have. Use your network! A precursor to all of this is, "Don't be a Whank*r!" Life is short and the world is small. Be nice, help people when you can and try to do no harm. It will come back to you and pay dividends (or bite you) depending on how you've moved about.
#7 "Roll With the Changes" by REO Speedwagon
I guarantee that you will face challenges and have epiphanies during your start-up. You are going to have to roll with it, a lot! You aren't in a corporation so you probably won't have a marketing department to vet your ideas or a graphic artist on hand to "capture the essence" of your brand so when you find out that your logo is actually offensive to a group, make the change, even if you've already printed the packaging!
#6 "Calling All Angels" by Train
"Angel Investors". As a start-up, unless you're blessed with a lot of personal cash to burn, you'll need to get funding. Seed money, angel investors and Series A Round investments, etc. Understand the differences, the nuances and the expectations of each round and each investment group. I had been exposed to a lot during my time in corporate but this area was all new to me and incredibly frustrating, especially when you are trying to learn it while in the midst of it.
#5 "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers
Starting a company isn't a sprint; it's a marathon...with an incredibly hard pace. The days of hopping on the elevator and going to the R&D department on the 9th floor for some answers are gone. You can't go to the Marketing department and get a focus group to look at your new packaging. All tasks, every last one of them, are now your responsibility. You're going to have to put in some serious mileage doing things that you aren't the expert in. There will be lots of questions, so check the ego at the door and put on some comfortable shoes!
#4 "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne
Suffice it to say that this song should be the anthem for all start-ups.
#3 "Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin
If I could only choose one thought to impart to you, it is the sentiment behind this song. You will ALWAYS have something to do, at ALL hours of the day, weekdays, weekends and even holidays. While this song is about a father and son, it could be about ANY relationship. I have no doubt that what you are working on is very important and it may even seem as if your very world depends on it getting done immediately. Understandable but remember why you are doing what you're doing. There are people in your life that you want to share the joy of success and accomplishment with someday/everyday. If you lose sight of them during the journey, the destination won't be nearly as sweet as you dreamed.
#2 "This is Why We Fight" by The Decemberists
I call this my "True North". You have to remember, and sometimes remind yourself repeatedly, why you are here, now. You opted not to collect a paycheck, to have sleepless nights and wondered on more than one occasion if you could keep the lights on. Whatever your reason is, make it the first and last filter in your decision making process. If a task doesn't pass the test, find another way to get it done that will keep you pointing to your True North.
and the #1 thing I wish someone had told me about starting a company..."If I Had a Million Dollars" by Barenaked Ladies
Financials have been a consistent theme in this Top 10 so it is only fitting that the #1 spot is about money. You can have the greatest widget in the world and not get funding or make any progress. You need to know what it will cost to make your widget both today and tomorrow. You need to know all the associated costs with getting your product from an idea in your head to its use in your consumers home. You need to know acquisition costs, conversion costs, retention costs. You need to know how you will accomplish your start-ups goals if someone gave you a briefcase full of money; whether it has $10k dollars or $1mn dollars. While your bank account today may make you wonder if you're sending mail out parcel post or first class, eventually it will be bigger and you will need to know what you're going to do with that money. Will it be used for product line extensions, new packaging or manufacturing equipment or will it be for new office furniture, or a nicer car?
Thanks for taking the time to read today's start-up "distraction". Hopefully soon we'll be dancing to "Having a Party" by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes! All the best!!