Over the last few years as I’ve worked my way down the path of learning about startups there is no other lesson that sticks out in my mind more clearly than sequencing. What is sequencing you ask? Well I might be the only one who uses the term in this context, but what I mean is the order in which you do things. Allow me to provide an analogy to help explain.
Imagine you’re a 15 year old boy aspiring to be a pro-hockey player in the NHL. It’s fair to assume that for you to have any hope of making it pro at this age that you’re already an amazing hockey player and on the radar of scouts, nobody starts playing hockey at 15 and ends up going pro. If you live in Western Canada your first big step is getting drafted into the WHL. From there you have a few years to develop as a player before you’ll try get drafted into the NHL. If you’re lucky enough to get drafted into the NHL then you’ll probably play a couple years in the farm system via the AHL. Then after a couple years in the AHL you’ll finally get called up to the NHL. This is of course a simplistic view of how to become a pro player, but what I’m trying to illustrate is that there is a clear path that a large proportion of people take. There are outliers who find their own way in, but don’t ever bank on being an outlier. Mark Zuckerberg is probably a lot like Sidney Crosby in that people were likely noticing his brilliance very early on.
So, taking this analogy and applying it back to startups, what sort of sequencing can one expect if they’re hope to achieve startup success? Well luckily for you there are many pathways, and I actually can’t really prescribe an exact path for you because it will always be different for everyone. That being said, what always remains constant is the steps you take always need to scale up, and taking big leaps generally doesn’t work. What do I mean by that? Well let me provide some examples from my own experience.
When I was getting started I had this notion that all I needed to do was convince some VCs of how great my idea was and then I’d be on my way. They’d invest a bunch of money and then all of my problems would be solved. I’d hire a team to build my software and then we’d be on our way to success. I even managed to get intros to some VCs and sent off copies of my business plan to various other VCs. Of course I only sent the business plans to the top VCs, because they’d certainly get it right?
You wanna know what’s the biggest dead giveaway that an entrepreneur is inexperienced and naive? They think their idea is so special that it holds any value within itself. If all you have is an idea, you’re not really worth much of anything to the business. You have no leverage, because you cannot execute the idea, or participate in the execution of the idea.
Executing as a startup CEO is very similar to a sport. The execution is ongoing. The preparation is ongoing. You’re always looking to improve yourself. It’s incredibly competitive. Perhaps most similar is that over time the superstars become apparent through their execution.
I grew up playing badminton competitively. I spent years building relationships in that community locally, nationally, even internationally. I know a LOT of people in that community, and while I’m not as good as I used to be people in that community give me respect because I’ve spent time in the community. They know my approximate level, what to expect from me. Sure I might be capable of playing beyond their expectations, or below, but for the most part they know what to expect from me based on previous execution.
This is what investors are looking for, but it’s incredibly difficult to find this in startups, especially when the founders are first timers. There is no data to judge them on. The best way to provide them data is to get involved in your local startup community. Help with local meetups, become a familiar face in the community. Give them some data on which to judge you, even if it is pretty basic. This also serves to teach you more about startups.
Okay, so you’ve started hanging out within the startup community, congratulations you’re now a startup groupie. Don’t fret though, this is a necessary step in the right direction. The next step is you actually need to build some relevant skills.