This week, we’re sharing insight from top business experts on starting up, whatever your business idea this January. Author of The Curve and digital business expert Nicholas Lovell shares his five ways to kick-start your startup idea in 2015 exclusively for Think Smarter. Sign up to the Think Smarter newsletter to get a wealth of brain boosting content from some of our top non-fiction authors sent straight to your inbox, every week this January. 

1. Watch a movie

No, not The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin’s tale of how Facebook was founded: it’s a terrible representation of the genesis of a startup and showcases Hollywood’s obsession with the big idea. People who write stories for a living think that the idea is everything; people who build successful businesses that employ people and generate profits know that execution is everything. Every successful entrepreneur says that hard work, resilience and smart execution are key; very few say that the idea is the heart of their success.

So, go and watch a movie that shows you what life is really like in a startup: Ghostbusters. See the highs and lows; the risks (Ray takes out a second mortgage on the house his parents left him); the uncertainties (waiting for an eternity for your first customer); the early PR adulation followed by the inevitable Trough of Sorrow (although hopefully your trough of sorrow won’t include threats of prison or of the destruction of the known world by ancient demi-Gods). The joys, the triumphs, the exhaustion and, above all, the fun.

Seriously: Ghostbusters is the best movie about startup life that I know.

2. Start

I have had the good fortune to attend one of Eric Ries’ Startup masterclasses in Dublin. In his introduction, Eric said (I paraphrase from memory): “If something I say sparks an idea in you that will improve your business, leave. Stand up, walk out of the room and make that improvement. The best thing I can do for you is to encourage you to start making change right now. Go. I won’t be offended. In fact, I’ll be very pleased.”
Lean StartupIn The Lean Startup, Eric gives a range of different ways you can start your startup more cheaply. Develop the minimum viable product you can use to test for whether there is a market for what you want to develop/build/do. With this idea in mind, for one of my self-published books, The F2P Toolbox, I ran a banner ad on my website, GAMESbrief, which is aimed at developers of free-to-play games. When users clicked on the ad they landed on a page that said “Thank you for clicking on that ad. I’m sorry, but I haven’t written The F2P Toolbox yet. I am trying to figure out whether there is market demand for it. By clicking on the ad, you have told me that there is interest.”

I asked people to register with their email address so I could tell them when it was available. Within a couple of weeks, 150 people registered. That was enough to convince me to write the book together with my co-author Rob Fahey, and we self-published it in 2014.

3. Be remarkable

This is optional, but, to my mind, extremely sensible. The concept comes from Seth Godin in Purple Cow who argues that, in a world of enormous choice where most startups are competing for attention in the vast wasteland of the world wide web, standing out by standing for something is key.

But while being remarkable is important, starting is even more so. If you’re not confident about being remarkable, just start. You’ll learn far more from feedback from real customers than you will in worrying about not being ready, or remarkable enough.

4. Keep it simple

I focus on businesses that have a technical angle. My bread-and-butter is helping to design videogames, but I work across a range of industries. Nearly all of them will have a website.

You will probably have a website. You can have one in less than 10 minutes. Just go to com, buy a domain, and get WordPress installed on it.

It really is that easy. You now have a website and a content management system. (That’s a fancy phrase for being able to write words in an easy interface and for them to appear on your website with no knowledge of code). WordPress is a lovely CMS because you can easily change the look and feel of your website by choosing a new “theme”, many of which are free. Both of my main websites run on WordPress. It is often thought of as a blogging tool, but it is very easy to build a static website with it, too.

You can start the process of building a destination for your customers or potential customers right now. It might be a blog. It might just be a description of your business and where to find it. It will probably have some links to social media. Above all, keep it simple.

I recommend that anyone thinking about a new business that has a website reads Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, a web usability book that has been in print since 2002. I’m on my fourth copy because I keep lending it to people who refuse to give it back. It is a marvellous and important book. You should read it. And you should try to avoid making your customers think about unnecessary, distracting things whenever possible.

5. Test and learn

Your job as an entrepreneur is to find a sustainable business model for a product that somebody wants. That means that you need to keep testing and learning. Listen to your customers, but listen sceptically. The problems that your customers are highlighting are real, practical issues that you need to solve. The solutions they propose are often misleading, misguided or just plain wrong.

Use every source available to you. Data. User feedback. Gut instinct. Mix them all up and experiment to learn what works and what doesn’t. You need to learn how to test. To learn from your experiments. To let go of the emotional attachment to something that isn’t working and move on. If you want to watch a movie to show you how to do split-testing, and to iterate effectively, try Groundhog Day.

That’s it. All you need to do.

1. Want to start something

2. Start it

3. Be remarkable

4. Keep it simple

5. Test and learn

It’s easy to say. It’s hard to do. But it’s a lot of fun. Go on, give it a try. And visit me at www.nicholaslovell.com to let me know how you got on.

Nicholas Lovell is the author of The Curve, about adapting your business model to the digital age. He self-publishes books about the design of business of games via www.gamesbrief.com.   

To help you make the most of 2015, we’re devoting this January to sharing exclusive writing from some of our biggest smart thinking authors. Sign up to the Think Smarter mailing list and you’ll get a weekly digest straight to your inbox every Saturday this month, as well as monthly newsletters throughout the rest of the year.

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