So you’re finally ready to take the leap. You’ve thought about this moment for a long, long time. You’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering if you’re about to make the smartest or stupidest decision of your life. Relax, I’ve got you covered.
Chances are, if you’re about to leave your steady job to launch a new startup, your life is about to get a lot more unpredictable– some nights at 9pm you’ll be hopping into bed and others you’ll be having your 6th cup of coffee, some days you’ll wonder if tomorrow will make or break you, and you’ll always wonder if you’ll be doing the same thing six months from now. And that’s what makes the entrepreneurial life so exciting and rewarding– you have to fight and claw your way through the unpredictable times to get to the more stable and successful times. Regardless, it will be fun and exhilarating, but you’ll enjoy the entire process much more if you prepare for it as best you can.
Here’s what I’d suggest you do before diving head first into a brand new start-up so you can enjoy the ride a little bit more–
Measure and track your personal finances with Mint or Personal Capital
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and managing your personal finances is necessary when you are about to go from a stable situation to an unstable one. Both Mint and Personal Capital offer free ways for you to effortlessly track your finances and build budgets. These tools make it very easy to find ways to save money and stretch your dollar if things become tight, but also provide a nice sense of accomplishment when things are going well (although money does not equate to happiness!).
Open a personal line of credit
You can never be too careful. Unsecured personal lines of credit provide a very convenient safety cushion in case you need quick cash or capital, but kiss your chances of getting approved for a personal line of credit good-bye once you forgo that steady paycheck and enter the startup world. Do yourself a favor and open a personal line of credit prior to leaving your job, but ONLY use it in case of emergencies, and pay it back as quickly as possible if you need to draw from it. It’s meant to be a back-up for your emergency fund, not a foundation of your business financing strategy, so treat it accordingly.
Get into a healthy fitness schedule, and stick with it for at least two weeks
The general rule of thumb for building new habits is to stick with them for at least two weeks, because it takes roughly two weeks for your brain to turn a task or activity into a habitual routine. Once you enter the start-up world, it will be VERY hard to stick with a new routine for two weeks before it feels like a habit because your schedule will be so erratic. One of the best habits you can have to keep your body and mind running at full speed is a regular fitness schedule, so do yourself a favor and make your fitness routine habitual prior to jumping headfirst into your startup.
Optimize your sleep
Sleep is something you should, but probably won’t get enough of, so it’s important to make the time you are sleeping worth every second. You’ve probably heard these tips before, but it’s for good reason– they work. This is what has worked for me to really improve my sleep quality–
- Drop the temperature at night. I’ve noticed 67 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect for me. You should feel a bit chilly, but it works.
- Keep your room as dark as possible. I purchased blackout temporary curtains from Home Depot for about $5, and they have lasted over a year now. If you cut them longer than your window and adhere it above your window sill instead of inside, you can cover the entire window and not have to worry about light seeping through the sides. This is probably the single most important thing I’ve done for my sleep quality.
- Keep your room as quiet as possible. If you can’t, use a white noise generator to drown out any ambient noises. You can purchase machines to do this, but I usually just leave SimplyNoise.com running on my laptop and turn the monitor off.
- Turn off all electronics (with exception to the step above). The only electronic I have on in my bedroom at night is my phone, but only because I use the alarm, and I make sure it’s on silent and facedown on the other side of the room. No alarm clock, no computer, no nightlight, nothing.
Get used to waking up early
Early. I mean early. Some people say they aren’t morning people, but if you ask anyone who’s woken up at 6am or earlier how they feel at 9am, I guarantee their response will be “productive!”. And if you want a fighting chance of growing a successful startup, being productive and getting a ton of stuff done before 9am is a godsend. Experiment with different morning routines until you find your ideal setup, but the constant in all of them should be waking up early.
Know where your first customer is coming from
It’s never too early to speak to your first customer. Literally, never too early. Just don’t look at them as simply customers– treat them as VIP partners. Getting feedback early and often makes the startup process a lot smoother, allowing you to tailor your product or service towards whom it matters most. Aside from lining up early sources of revenue, it’s nice to allow others to feel like they’ve been with you from the beginning. This is how you build fans and advocates instead of merely customers.
Know how to efficiently spend your time
Are you aware of your internal clock? This is something you should work around instead of fight– you can fight it in the very short-term, but eventually it will come back to haunt you in the form of severe burn-out. For me personally, I know that between the hours of 6pm and 8pm, I will get almost nothing done, so I reserve these few hours for dinner, family and friends, lounging and relaxing– guilt-free, and I know before 7am and after 9pm, I will be “in the zone” to get any creative writing done, so I schedule that time accordingly. Learn what works for you, and go with the flow. One thing to be aware of though– if there’s activities that you can get done before or after work-hours, don’t schedule them during work hours.
There are also a few things that you might think you need to do, but you definitely SHOULDN’T do–
DON’T write a business plan
Unless you’re looking for financing from an investor or a bank immediately, writing a formal business plan at this stage is a waste of time for a number of reasons. First, I guarantee you that starting on Day 1, things will change. It’s great to plan, but doing so in a formal business plan where you are just as worried about presentation as you are content, is useless. Instead, having a working Google Doc solely for marketing plans, financing plans and sales plans is much more efficient and easier to update and execute.
DON’T fail fast.
I love many aspects of the Lean Startup movement, but learning to “fail fast” is not one of them. Some of your best ideas and most productive periods of time will be when you feel like your back is against a wall and you don’t know what else do to. If you consider closing your doors too early, you’ll miss out on what might be your breakout moment. Relentlessly pursue every possible avenue. Accept nothing but success. There’s always a way.
Hopefully these tips will help make your startup journey a little smoother. Some days will be tougher than others, but never forget to enjoy the ride. If you ever need help or have any questions, feel free to tweet at me at @SL_Steinberg.