57 Steps for Startups

Figure out what business you want to be in. Passion and skill set are more important than money. Money can be made in any industry. If you already have idea that excites you, the question becomes: are you willing to work day and night to build a business?

Begin researching the industry and your competitors. Business = can be run without you. Everything else is a career.

Determine how to create your product.

Talk to potential customers and users for feedback.

Come up with a name for your company and product.

Build your core story and pitch. Even if you do not need to raise funding, knowing what separates you from the competition is important. These aspects are how you’ll turn offerings into buyers.

Determine how much capital is necessary to fund your business and get to positive cash flow.

Get feedback from your mentors, advisors, friends, and family.

Find people (co-founders if necessary) whose skills complement your own and can help you achieve more.

Select a quality law firm in your area when you are ready to incorporate and get some legal advice.

Incorporate and obtain an Employer Identification Number from the IRS

Open your company bank account.

Create employee agreements and confidentiality agreements for everyone, both employees and contractors, from the beginning.

Hold your initial Board of Directors meeting, which could just be with yourself or maybe two board members that you appoint.

Issue stock certificates to yourself and to your initial founding team (if necessary). If you’re looking to build a company that will eventually take investors, create a Restricted Stock Unit (RSU) plan and/or your stock options plan that enable you to provide equity ownership and incentives to your employees to gain ownership in the company over time.

Fund your bank account with the initial capital contribution either coming from yourself, friends or family, or peer-to-peer lending organizations like Fundable or Kickstarter.

Determine whether you need outside capital to start and raise any initial capital you need.

Get a company debit card and credit card and apply for a corporate credit line if you need to.

Set up your accounting and payroll provider so you can actually pay your employees.

Consider trademarking the names of the company and product. This is something to discuss with your lawyer.

Build the Brand. Design your logo. Register your domain name. Design your company website. Install a tracking tool like Google Analytics on your website. Sign up for an email list tool like iContact or MailChimp. Optimize your website for the search engines by adding content or adding a blog and getting other websites to link to you.

Find office space to work out of (if you need to) – make it executive, furnished space like WeWork or Regus to start. This should come with Internet included.

Purchase any technology you need – software, computers, phones, etc.

Obtain a Universal Product Code (UPC) if your product is going to be sold in stores.

Design any labeling and packaging if needed.

Finish your initial beta/prototype product and bring it to market regardless of whether it’s ready or not. Order your initial inventory, if needed.

Get a merchant account if you want to accept credit cards.

Hire your initial staff to be able to begin your operations.  Hire your first salespeople, which can be done on 100% commission basis. Sales are the lifeblood of any business. No sales, no business.

Hold your launch event and start selling. Get initial user and customer feedback.

Install a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system—a tool that can track your customer base and the interactions you have with your customers and users.

Hire a team to fulfill your orders and provide customer service.

Start an affiliate program or distributor program, which enables you to get other people to sell your product for you for a percentage of the sale.

Recruit affiliates and distributors.

Set up an ad tracking system so you can track your advertising and the results, conversion rates, and cost per lead.

Start Marketing. Try different online advertising strategies and tactics like cost-per-click advertising with a small test budget, social influencers, guerrilla marketing.  Determine the cost of acquisition per lead, conversion rate for each channel.

TAO. Test, Adjust, Optimize

Calculate the lifetime value (LTV) of a customer. Once you know that, you’ll know how much you can spend to acquire a new customer, which is critical to calculating the return on investment.

Test your marketing and advertising with larger budgets as you grow.  Scale advertising until the marginal cost of customer acquisition is equal to the marginal return from that customer acquired. Optimize your advertising to bring down your customer acquisition cost.

Collect testimonials and use cases from those customers and perhaps even build a few PDF case studies.

Create social content across every platform.

Attend an industry trade show or conference.

Consider selling your product in bulk at wholesale to get more sales and initial brand awareness.

Create an employee directory, once you get beyond a handful of employees.

As you start creating fairly reliable sales based on the marketing spend, begin reviewing your profit and loss (or your income statement) and your balance sheet monthly.

Compare your initial forecast with actual results. Take the budget that you created before you began and compare that initial pro forma forecast with your actual profit and loss results.

Compare the deltas and talk about them as you create your next iteration of your budget. Eventually you’ll begin creating budgets annually and locking in those budgets and calling those the plan, and then comparing actual results on a monthly basis against your annual board-approved plan.

Set up a company healthcare program and other benefits for your employees. Establish your vacation policy.

Create an online wiki or intranet for your company where you can keep track of your processes.

Create a digital company handbook that can be edited and improved by your employees, like a Wikipedia article.

Open up a credit line with your bank. The best time to go after funding is when you don’t need it. If things are going well, go ahead and open that credit line.

Create an offsite work policy. Some of your employees may want to work remotely. Generally, as long as they’re getting their work done and are able to show up to the meetings you do have, which should be pretty minimal initially, you should be able to enable them to work offsite a couple days a week.

Only raise capital when you can show that $1 in spend turns $2 in revenue. Only raise your initial round of capital once you have a mathematical model for scalability, then go out and raise a true series A round of funding if you choose. Create a list of firms from which to raise initial growth funding. Get connected to investors through people you know.

Create a pitch deck with new data, mentors, and team members.

Hire an Executive Assistant (EA) or an office manager to manage your schedule and the business’s day-to-day tasks.

Hold your first company retreat.

Take customer feedback and improve your product. You will want to create a product management process to incorporate customer feedback on an ongoing basis. The goal is to improve quality, value, and impact across iterations.

Bring on strategic investors to help you accomplish the big dream goals you have. Companies that go public, get big VC’s, then deliver on the capital provided. If the business can be scaled, subsequent rounds of capital will be necessary to continue the growth curve.

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