One of our favorite pieces of advice for entrepreneurs — one that we like enough to have had it printed on the boxes for our Introduction to Entrepreneurship Starter Kits:
But, truth is, we don’t really mean “just start” literally. If you just start walking without a roadmap, without taking the time to pack some necessities and understand what the walk will entail, who knows where you’ll end up?
By “just start,” we’re more encouraging you to stop rolling that idea or that inspiration around and around in your head, and take the first steps toward turning it into a business.
Those first steps, to us, are all about learning.
Lesson 1: You, too, are dead wrong about a bunch of stuff
Our Introduction to Entrepreneurship workshops (and the more DIY Starter Kit) were designed to give newbie entrepreneurs a playbook — a sense of what you don’t know, what you need to know, and what you can do to acquire the info you need to “just start.”
One of the most important components in that playbook: Our custom version of the business model canvas. Its usefulness comes with how it enlightens — it helps you sketch out what you think you know, and figure out where you’re totally wrong. (Which, invariably, will be in a lot of places.)
We call those things you think you know about your business, your customers and how they’ll interact “assumptions.” Every aspiring entrepreneur assumes — we assume we know who our customers are, what they want, how they want it, what they’ll pay for it. And here and there, we’re right. Problem is, if we start investing time and money developing our business based on assumptions that are dead wrong, we end up stalled, grasping, or worse, broke.
That’s why it’s key to understand your assumptions, front to back, and start testing them. Stop assuming, and start knowing.
What an assumption looks like
Assumptions can be overly optimistic, or they can be overly pessimistic, or they can just be a total misunderstanding of how the marketplace will respond to what you’re making or doing. They can also be spot on — and it’s just as helpful to know when you’ve nailed it as when you’ve whiffed it.
Here’s the idea:
Let’s say you’re an aspiring jewelry designer and you’ve created a line of colorful custom necklaces. You figure you’re going to need to attract some local women’s boutiques to carry your work, and that your first step is to produce enough for wholesaling and to contract with someone who has wholesale marketing experience to get you off the ground. You’re assuming that a) your customers are largely women b) they want a brick-and-mortar experience and c) you’re not equipped to market your own products.
Maybe you’re right. But maybe you actually appeal more to sons and husbands looking for a personal and locally made gift, and maybe those sons and husbands would prefer an easy e-commerce experience that you can build yourself. And maybe if you followed the path outlined by your assumptions, you’d end up wasting a bunch of time and a bunch of money, and leaving potential sales in the wind.
You’ve been making bibs and baby blankets with unique designs and patterns for friends as gifts for years, and everyone tells you you’d make a killing if you started selling them. But you figure the market’s already so saturated with baby items, you’d never break through the noise. And even if you did, you probably wouldn’t be able to sell enough to break even with the time you’d spend.
Again, it’s possible you’re spot on. It’s also possible that what you’re doing has a special draw in your local market, and that you have enough of a network of built-in fans to start small and build effectively.
There’s a lot you’ll have to explore here, including your break-even point and how to build your community, but it’ll start with testing those assumptions to see if your best move is to plow forward, course-correct or — always a possibility — bail on this particular business idea.
How we test assumptions
The custom-designed 74-page workbook we use in Introduction to Entrepreneurship workshops (and which is included in the Starter Kit) walks you, step by step, through the process of capturing, testing and proving/disproving assumptions, and repeating until you have a picture of where you’re headed that’s based on concrete data, not guesses. It takes some work, but we designed it to be fun, too.
The canvas — a big part of that process — helps you organize things. We’ve put it up for free download, too, so you can tool around with it and see if you feel like some more direction (in-person or otherwise) would help you move forward.
The core of testing assumptions: figuring out who your customers are, and asking real people real questions about your real business, so you can get real feedback, real data and some real eye-openers.
In our workshop (the next one is coming up soon) and in the workbook, we outline a specific and effective way to do all that. And — practice what you preach — we tested it, extensively. Feedback informed our approach in the same way that it’ll inform yours.
Whether you explore entrepreneurship education with The Skillery or not, we hope you’ll take this little piece of encouragement and run with it: Think long and hard about what you’re assuming about your business, and spend some time working to find out if you’re right or wrong. Do all that well before you make any big moves. Get your roadmap in place, even if you think your sense of direction is top-notch.
If we can help, let us know — if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur in Nashville, we think of you as part of our community.
If pondering this is inspiring you to learn with us, tickets are still available for Saturday, Feb. 13's Introduction to Entrepreneurship workshop.
If you're more the kind of person to study solo, check out a little more about our Introduction to Entrepreneurship Starter Kit.