What Every Start-up Entrepreneur Must Do First

Entrepreneurship is a bit like investing in the stock market; while there are general principles and guidelines for both, every portfolio (invention) is different and no one can see into the future…regardless of how convincing he or she might sound.

With that in mind, think of this next piece as a principle:

There is a rotting pile of guff that’s been spoon fed to the hordes of wide-eyed incubator and accelerator cubicle dwellers throughout Britain for over a decade that goes something like: “Create it and then sell it.”

And it’s wrong.

We are encouraged to spend countless hours molding and shaping, honing and researching, modelling and testing our respective tabled Frankenstein monsters in preparation for the lightning bolt that will someday awaken its potential (read: sales).

It is a pot-holed mine-laden route to wasting years of your life, thousands (or even millions) in angel / VC investment and denying the market a game-changing product it would otherwise have had if you’d done one thing differently at the outset.

Turn it around.

“Sell it. Then create it.”

“Impossible,” says you. “My product/service creation is a multi-national fabrication and manufacturing ensemble that requires bells from Belgium, whistles from Wyoming and algorithms from Argentina.

“Emerson, you are a fool.”


But who sells, wins.

At the outset of every idea (read: you’re gonna cull millions of them) you need to create a list. And this part of the process and its timing should remain sacrosanct, like Moses on the mountain, before any business plan, cubicle chair, supplier research or other such paperclip-and-post-it note activity happens.

Comprising that list are names of things – groups of company types, socio-economic targets, regions of countries, business titles, age-demographics – any specific breakdown of who you think is going to buy your Frankenstein monster.

Then comes the game-changer: You have to ask them. And I don’t mean ask them if they like it. I mean ask them to buy it, for how much and how they’ll use it.

If you think that sounds like research, it’s not. You’re looking for more than opinions, you’re hunting for commitment. This will shape what you eventually build in the first instance instead of enduring a half-life of decay through seventeen incarnations before finding one that only a part of your audience is interested…but at half the price you thought.

And if you think yourself unable to confront the highly likely embarrassments and straight up knock-backs that this process can and will hold, then quit now and save those angels and VCs their tax write-off EIS/SEIS filings.

“Impossible,” says you. “My sales targets speak only Yiddish, ride goats amongst the Scottish thistle and emerge but once a year to erect a Christmas tree and sing songs that annoy the Grinch atop Mount Crumpit. And they don’t have email or phones.

“Emerson, you are now twice the fool I thought you before.”


But who sells wins.

If you can not find, communicate with or otherwise access your endgame purchasers – or worse, you’re aiming to become a profit-less, revenue-less multi-billion dollar/pound IPO market valuation “Unicorn” – buy a lottery ticket instead.

And if you’re currently in amongst one of the UK’s rah-rah incubators and accelerators awash in multi-coloured sticky notes, daily motivational speeches and knee-deep in targets to keep hold of your cubicle and phone, think of your next step as not to please your current keeper, but to sell to your future customers.

Every rejection is a future sale if you find out want they want first and how much they’ll pay for it.

In the next Stop & Think Entrepreneurship article, I’ll give you some principles on how to do it.

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