3. Start-Up: Million-Dollar Thinking

Stop right here.

And think.

Yes, start-ups have to move fast. And yes, the competition also moves fast. Start-ups have the advantage over large organizations that they can move fast, there is no bureaucratic hierarchy, and the risk stakes are much lower. The power of your start-up lies in new thinking. That is, if you give your idea some space to develop and others time to get back in line. So at this stage your business idea that is going to change the world has been reinvented a couple times, but if you think this will be your final product… Think again. So let’s talk through the steps to undertake before launching your business into the market space, just to let us breathe for a while and rethink.

One of the phenomena you’ll have to get used to is that a start-up might be confusing and often counter intuitive as soon as it takes off. When you built your team it all depended on what your intuition told you, however even if this worked out don’t let it be a guide from here onwards. Here are some counter intuitive points that are worth giving a thought:

  1. Mentors who have walked the burning path of dealing with start-ups. It’s not the mentors that are the counter intuitive part here, but their advice. They have the tips and tricks, but most of all they have courage. Having dealt with all the burdens of start-ups before, your mentor most likely will know where intuition can be the quality to break down a new business.
  1. You don’t need to be a start-up expert. You don’t need a business major. What you do need is having the right insights, a little bit of luck and, where needed, some product development intuition. Because everyone in your company will turn to you when advice and direction is needed, some patience and empathy for listening are a big must-have. As you had others join your team for their expertise, you can focus on keeping them all aligned.
  1. Short cuts. They don’t exist in start-upland. Gaming the system, in other words trying to manipulate some procedures, will put your business back to where it started, as nothing.
  1. There is no part-time start-up. They consume your life once the idea starts living with your customers. Also, the illusion that being the CEO of a successful company will give you the option of doing as you like is one that hopefully fades away fast.
  1. Speaking of successful start-ups, we cannot predict beforehand whether start-ups are going to be successful or not. Although some investors like to believe that they’ve found a pattern they can blindly follow, it is categorically seen impossible to do so.

So have you taken some time to breathe? Good. Then we’ll have another look at your business idea. Does the idea sound bad if you think it over? Good. Most good start-up ideas started as really bad, think Facebook being a site where guys could mindlessly compare girls against each other. However, there are some indicators that can tell us if a start-up will show potential or not:

  • They are qualities that the founders themselves want. Mark Zuckerberg took quite some risks while starting “Facemash”, the first version of Facebook. He had to hack into Harvard’s system in order to get pictures from female peers, and therefore almost risked expulsion. However, as soon as the statistics came in about the success of this page he decided not to give up on his idea, as there was still so much potential.
  • They are products that founders know or learn how to build. Zuckerberg studied computer science, and together with some friends was able to build and rebuild the website every time there was new demand.
  • They are ideas that very few others think are worthwhile doing. It took Facebook 2 years before it opened up to the entire world. It takes some time for others to tag along with your new idea, but who knows, maybe you’ll have the same spurt as Facebook did!


“Easiest way to build a different and better future is to live in the future and build what is missing and seems interesting.” – Paul Graham.

It’s not the end of the world when there seems to be no place for your idea at first. Important is though that you analyze whether there are customers out there who are willing to pay for your product or service before you go big. Enthusiastic early adopters are a critical turning point in your newly started business, but before you even get to this stage your idea will probably look nothing like it did at the start. But then, if making a successful start-up was easy, there would be no space at all for new start-ups like your own.

This post is part of the series “How To Start a Startup”, based on the lectures taught at Reykjavik University. For more information check out the Startup Iceland website

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