Lesson One

Making a plan before building your business

So you want to create a website or build a mobile app. Maybe you own a clothing boutique but now you want to build a website to reach people across the country. Maybe you have an idea for an app that could be the next big thing.

Before you write a line of code, pay a subscription for an online website builder, or hire a designer, ask yourself what do you want to accomplish?

Are you building a website to drive more sales or awareness for your existing business?

Are you building an app to be able to support you and your family?

Understanding the “why” behind why you want to create a website or app will make it easier for you to execute on your vision and prioritize all the things you could do.

Building the first version of your website or mobile app is just the beginning. You need to be mentally ready to take on years of carving and cultivating that product into a business.

If things go easy for you right away, great, but this is usually not the case. Many of the founders we see as being successful today, spent years tinkering their way to reach their big breakthrough.

I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.
Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple

Timing, perseverance and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.
Biz Stone, Founder of Twitter

We met all these investors and they just wouldn’t invest. So we started funding it ourselves. We sold collectible breakfast cereal and did other crazy things… We went door to door with cameras taking pictures of all these apartments to put them online. I lived in their living rooms. And home by home, block by block, communities started growing.
Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb

What we realized is that the idea is only 5 percent of it – and the other 95 percent is about working your ass off to turn that idea into a reality.
Ben Lerer, Founder of Thrillist

Sometimes exceptional businesses seem like they came from nowhere. This gives the impression that success was instant. However, in most cases, there was often years of fighting that each business had to endure before the combination of skill and hard work paid off.

Granted, sometimes you’re building a website or app simply to experiment, not to build a business. This type of experimentation is great. And is sometimes the thing that eventually does lead to something special. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, got his start by experimenting with a little product he thought would be fun for him and his sisters:

Zuckerberg then built this music app. Then Facemash. And finally, Facebook.

Many of today’s most successful founders began by building small applications or fun side projects that seemed trivial. But, it was often this early experimentation that became a defining piece in their big breakthrough. If you’re experimenting, build what makes you happy or fixes a problem you have. This might not be a business yet but it could lead to something.

If your goal is to start a business, you’ve likely been taught about the importance of creating a business plan.

One of the challenges with a business plan however, is it takes a long time to create and can sometimes lead to over-planning, which delays you from building your idea. A detailed, multi-page business plan is also typically not dynamic enough to keep up as you build and evolve your business.

In recent years, there’s been an approach to building technology products that has risen in popularity called the Lean Startup. At its core, the lean startup philosophy is about reducing waste when developing a business or product.

To complement the lean startup method, a document called the Lean Canvas was created as an alternative to a complex business plan. Rather than a complex analysis in a business plan that can take months to create, a Lean Canvas focuses on only the most important elements of your business within a single page snapshot.

Whether you follow some of the ideas in the Lean Startup method or not, making a Lean Canvas can help you spot flaws about your business model upfront that you might not have considered and need to focus on.

Here’s a blank Lean Canvas and a guide to help complete it.

When creating a Lean Canvas, don’t overthink it. The purpose is not to fill everything out perfectly. Set aside a half an hour and complete what you can. If you don’t know what to put in certain sections yet, leave them blank.

If you don’t have all the answers it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start or your idea is no good. It just means you’ve likely found areas in your concept that need to be thought out more or tested.

Although you’ll likely tweak your answers in your Lean Canvas as your business progresses, the great thing about creating a Lean Canvas upfront is it helps you keep an eye on many of the things that are the most impactful for your business.