The 7 Day Startup (Dan Norris) — bullet points

  • The ability to learn from real data is why the 7 Day Startup works. You wipe assumptions off the table. Your focus is on launching in 7 Days. As Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The opposite is also true: People don’t know what they don’t want until they are forced to open their wallets. It’s amazing what you can achieve in 7 Days. You can’t deliver on your whole grand vision, but you can launch something. When you do, you can start talking to people who are paying you money. This is when you start making sensible business decisions and avoid assumptions.
  • Without question, the biggest mistake people make is obsessing over their idea and not focusing enough on finding people willing to pay for their product. Long-term plans and detailed documents are pointless. Most businesses go on to do something very different from what they set out to do. Today, this is called a pivot. I learned a very valuable lesson from my failure to launch. That lesson is: “You don’t learn until you launch.”
  • With high impact potential and high levels of innovation, a startup has the ability to change the world. You won’t be able to execute your idea in seven days at a level that compares with the best in the world. That should be your goal in the medium term.
  • If you have a conversation with a friend about your business idea this month, and next month you are having the same conversation, you are a wantrepreneur. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to launch. Are you looking to release an online training or membership site? The technology will allow you to launch it in 7 Days. Save your epic launch plans for later, when you can make decisions based on real customer behavior. Want to create a physical product? How about you sell someone else’s product first and get real feedback instead of acting on assumptions?
  • The 7 Day Startup mindset is that you will launch it in 7 Days. You won’t waste any time building something that you don’t know people want. Once you aim for a week, you will start to question every assumption and figure out a way to make it happen. What you need is to minimize risk and minimize the time you spend working based on assumptions. If your idea is going to take six months to test, then I would suggest choosing a different idea. This is not like a typical business book. Don’t bother with tactics to “find your ideal market” or “create your unique selling proposition” or “practice your elevator pitch.” These activities are pointless before you launch because they are based on assumptions.
  • I will walk you through exactly what to do on each of the 7 Days. For now, let’s consider the things that need to happen before you launch. Day One – You need to have an idea. I’ll explain how to generate ideas and tell a good one from a bad one (as best we can without having real customers). Day Two – You need to have something to launch at the end of the seven days. I’ll explain what a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is and you can start thinking about what you will launch. Day Three – You need a business name. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but I’ll look at a few ways you can create a simple, useful name. Day Four – You need a landing page or some sort of online presence. I’ll show you how to build a website in less than a day. Day Five – In this chapter I will give you a look at free methods for getting your business in front of enough people to help you decide whether or not to continue. Day Six – You need to measure what success means to you. The last thing you want is to launch and then not know whether you have a hit a few weeks later. I’ll help you set some goals and plan to make changes if you don’t reach those goals. Day Seven – You have to launch. You can use these steps when launching your business or any product within an existing business.
  • Day 1 – The 9 Elements of a Bootstrapped Business Idea: Enjoyable daily tasks, Product/founder fit, Scalable business model, Operates profitably without the founder, An asset you can sell, Large market potential, Tap into pain or pleasure differentiators, Unique lead generation advantage, Ability to launch quickly (Unfortunately, innovations like the iPhone don’t get built by first-time entrepreneurs or self-funded companies. For a business idea to be a good idea for a bootstrapper, it needs to be something you can launch quickly. Complex software products, physical products, or local physical businesses are difficult. If it’s going to take you a year to launch, you won’t learn from real customer data as you go. Choose an idea that you can launch and modify quickly. Then when you start getting real data from paying customers, you can innovate and get the product just right. I’d love it if you chose something that you can launch in seven days. If you can’t, you should still pick an idea you can launch in two months as opposed to two years.)(Creating a startup means creating something valuable for your customers that is a long-term asset. It doesn’t mean going after low-hanging fruit, getting caught up in get rich quick schemes, or chasing passive income. We are talking about launching a real startup here. Something that gives you a purpose, creates something original in the world, and builds long term value. You need to think about how you can truly create something. Consistently producing original concepts will boost your motivation and confidence, set you up as an authority, and put you in a place where you can develop real, long-term assets. Creating something real could mean writing content on your company blog, or producing a software app that accomplishes a task slightly better than everyone else. You could start a services business that delivers services in a unique way. Or make a physical product that offers something new. It needs to be original and provide significant, ongoing value to its customers; and to you.)(For your first startup, solve problems where people are already paying for solutions. Everyone might be saying that your idea is great, but look at whether or not they are currently paying for a solution to the same problem. This will tell you how hard it will be to convince them to pay you for your product. When you’ve had a few exits and you’ve bought the yacht, it’s time to be Steve Jobs. Until then, start by solving existing problems that people are already paying for solutions to.)
  • Day 2 – WTF is an MVP? The concept of the MVP is (in Eric Rie’s words): “The first step is to enter the Build phase as quickly as possible with a minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.” What this means: Rather than spending six months creating a product or service, do only the smallest amount of work required to truly test it. A common MVP mistake is over-emphasizing the “minimum” and under-emphasizing the “viable.” (Once you have your product or service idea, it’s time to think about what you can launch within one week that represents your final vision for your product or service as closely as possible. That is from the customer’s point of view. The ugly “behind the scenes” view does not matter right now. The key is to forget about automation and figure out what you can do manually.)(An MVP in a service business isn’t too hard, but with software or physical products it becomes a bit trickier. The same principles apply, though. You need to think about how you can mimic the customer experience as much as possible, as quickly as possible.) Today you need to think about what your MVP will look like and how you can build it in 7 Days. Here are some questions that you need to answer: How can you perform a service or offer a product to real customers? How will you get them to pay you after seven days? How close will your MVP be to the final vision of your product? What can you do manually (hint: probably everything)? What can you do yourself instead of delegating? How can you make your offer as real as possible for the end customer? Your product or service will need to be at a point where you can offer it at the end of the week. This won’t be easy. It will be fun. It will also force you to be creative and to put something in the hands of your customers and to ask them for money.
  • Day 3 – Choose a Business Name: Here are some naming tricks to get started: A place. Apple was named after an apple farm. Adobe was named after a creek that ran behind the founder’s house. Combine two words to create a new one. Aldi is a combination of “Albrecht” (name of the founders) and “discount.” Intel combined “Integrated Electronics.” Groupon combined “Group Coupon.” Use the dictionary. Jack Dorsey liked the name Twitch so he looked at words around it in the dictionary and found the word “Twitter.” Is the .com taken for the name? This will often point you to whether or not someone is actively using the name. This doesn’t necessarily mean you rule it out, but it’s another consideration. Always favor a name that’s simple. Even if it doesn’t mean anything, being simple makes it memorable. Eventually it will mean something. Case in point: Apple. Here are some quick guidelines: Try to avoid making up words. Don’t use misspellings or words that people commonly misspell. This only increases the chance people won’t find you. Most importantly, keep your name to fewer than 12 characters if possible. Every single one of the top 25 brands in the world are 12 characters or less. Is it easy to say out loud? No matter how clever you are at marketing, there is a very good chance that your best method for finding customers will be word of mouth. Your business name has to be easy to say in order for people to talk about you. Do you like it? You will have to say it a lot, so you better like it. It will grow on you to some extent, but don’t start with something you don’t like. Does it make sense for your idea? As a bonus, if the name clearly makes sense for your idea, then it’s a real winner. DropBox says what it does without being too specific. Broader is better. You are an early stage company, so it’s hard to know exactly what you will be doing down the track.
  • Day 4 – Build a Website in One Day: Now that you have a business idea and name, you are ready to start articulating what your message will be. 1. The purpose of the landing page is twofold: 2. To start communicating with customers and learning how they respond. To begin to build what will ultimately sell your product. You don’t want to spend weeks or months on the landing page. One day is a reasonable amount of time to get a page ready. It’s imperative that on Day 7 you have a page with a payment button on it, because that is the only way you’ll learn if people want what you are offering.
  • Day 5 – Market Your Business: Create Content on Your Site. Start Sending Emails. It can take time to build up a decent list, but the best thing you can do is start as early as possible. I suggest building an email list before you launch and continually looking at ways of growing your list. Give away something relevant and valuable to people to get them onto the list. I have had good results with free software, plugins, templates, ebooks, and training courses. This book itself was given away free in return for an (optional) email address. Create great content on your site and provide giveaways (lead magnets) that are related to that content. For example, I gave away a Conversion Review Template on any of my content that talks about conversions. Keep all of your emails personal and encourage people to reply to the emails. This can be a great way to learn what customers want and gain lightning-fast feedback on your business ideas. On top of that, you get opportunities to help people out and build up some goodwill among your online community. People will help you if you help them first.
  • Day 6 – Set Targets: The point of launching a business quickly is that you can get real data from real customers. This will help you determine if the business is having an impact. But how do you know what a good result is? The way I like to think about this is to focus on the One Metric That Matters (OMTM) at different stages in your business. When you launch, it makes sense to focus on the number of people who sign up and pay you. Set a reasonable target that takes into consideration your reach and your marketing efforts and price point. Shoot for a few customers early on and set a realistic monthly growth rate from there. For WP Curve, I wanted to get ten customers in the first month or around $500 in MRR. From there I wanted to grow at 10% per month for at least the first six months. This was bare minimum and thankfully WP Curve outpaced this significantly. With any business I’ve started, my primary goal has been to get to a point where I’m paying myself a reasonable wage as early as possible. The figure I’ve always used is $40,000 per year. If I can get to the point where I’m paying myself a wage of $40,000, I know I have enough there to keep the business going. Eventually I have the faith that I’ll continue to improve this number. Here are some general principles around setting your OMTM target: Make it a financial metric, not a vanity metric like website visits or Facebook likes. Pay particular attention to who is signing up. If it’s just your friends, then that’s very different from the general public. Focus on what your paying customers are saying and how many people continue to pay you, and you can’t go too far wrong.
  • Day 7 – Launch: Put up your live website with the payment button. Include as many options as you can for people to contact you. You want to talk to customers and potential customers as much as possible from today onwards. Consider having live chat, email, physical address, phone number, and social media profiles. I would warn you about falling into the trap of charging more. It’s much like cutting costs, you can only do it till a point. I much prefer having a reasonable margin and getting more customers at that price. If you are in a big market, that will be a never-ending growth strategy.
  • I’m not into niches: I want to make sure whatever I start could be a $1,000,000 business in a few years, ideally more. I hope you are the same. If you want something that grows, it has to have something to grow into, and the last thing you want is to kill your momentum by hitting a ceiling. I’ve mentioned serving a large market previously, but since it’s such a big growth inhibitor, it bears repeating here. Make sure there is enough potential in what you are doing to have a continually-growing business.
  • Asset Building: When I sold my business, I learned that project clients were worth very little. The website and the recurring clients were transferable assets. The historical revenue from project work wasn’t worth much at all. When you sign up additional customers, are you building an asset? What other assets are growing naturally as you work on your business? Assets help your business grow and make it worth something when you sell.
  • Simple Business Model: Having a simple product and a simple value proposition makes everything else easier. From elevator pitches to growth tracking to hiring—the more complex a model, the harder it is to know when things are going well. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. A business with one basic product like Buffer or Dropbox is a growth machine. If you want a scalable business model, it’s much better to work on one simple offering than thirty different ones. Keep this in mind as you focus your attention and don’t get distracted. Follow the momentum.
  • Recurring or Predictable Revenue: Quite often, in a recurring monthly business, a bad month is just growing less than every other month. There isn’t a huge roller coaster of good months and bad months like you have in other businesses. Not every service suits a recurring model, so you could think about other ways to build predictable revenue. Seriously consider offering a recurring aspect to your business if you think there’s a chance you can make it work. It will often mean fewer customers, but if those customers are one-off sales that don’t contribute to long term growth, then you might be better off without them. Basecamp.com started as a project web agency before they had enough revenue to drop the one-off work.
  • Hopefully, I’ve set you on a path to create an exciting and profitable startup. The first major hurdle is launching; then, getting your first customer; and then, proving the concept and generating a wage for yourself in a scalable way. You are better off launching quickly and paying attention to real data rather than making assumptions.
  • Manage Motivation: Your own personal happiness and motivation are the most important keys to the success of your business. I know plenty of people who have created great businesses, taken them to a point, and then lost all motivation. If you are struggling with motivation, join a forum, start a mastermind, find a co-founder, hire people to do the hard work, and get back to what you’re good at. Take the warning signs seriously. You should be more excited about Monday than you are about Friday. If that’s not the case, there’s a good chance things aren’t going to work out.
  • Focus on Retention: Make sure you are delivering constant value for your existing customers. If someone does leave, don’t send them a long and detailed survey, send them this—it’s a Jay Abraham trick. Subject: Did we do something wrong? Body: Hey [first name] I noticed you cancelled your subscription, did we do something wrong? Most people will reply to this and you’ll find out the real reason people are leaving.
  • Focus on Product: Running a business can be daunting. Every expert has a different opinion on some “must have” technique or technology you need to be using. It’s hard to know where to spend your time, money, and attention. If you are in doubt, come back to the product. Anything you can do that improves the product or improves the customer experience will be a sound investment. If you are feeling overwhelmed with all of the things you need to do, just focus on how to make your product slightly better.
  • Epilogue: Understand growth and understand how your business looks without you, but don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Make difficult decisions early that lead to more growth and higher value later on. Look out for sources of momentum and keep doing what’s working. Listen to your customers and watch what they do. Operate in a large market with a unique point of difference that responds to your customers’ pain or pleasure points. It’s a big world, and if you are smart about the way you structure your offering, there is unlimited room for growth. Make a great product, do one thing well, and learn to say “no.” It’s your business. Constantly improve your product above all else. Move quicker and learn faster than your competition. Create something new, create something valuable, and have fun.

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