Don’t Start By Building a Startup

by Colin Boardway on November 12, 2012

Last year at this time I was sitting in an undergraduate entrepreneurship class working on what I thought was “the next big thing”.  I had a brilliant idea for a startup and everyone in my class, including my professor knew it. I put together a loose-knit team, nailed all my in-class presentations and watched the concept grew stronger by the week. I took the idea to Loyola’s business plan competition and even after completely blowing my pitch I walked away with second place. Wide-eyed and sitting on a fat check for doing virtually no work, I was convinced that this was my ticket to the easy life by age 25. I applied to the Chicago Lean Startup Challenge, a program that applies the concepts of customer development and lean startup principles to take your idea from zero to hero in 14 weeks. As cocky as I was, I knew we would get accepted.

Fast-forward to the summer, and our time as a competitive force in the challenge was short lived at best. Talking to customers was easy. Listening to them was not. After discovering that our idea wasn’t actually solving the consumers biggest pain points we became frustrated. One member dropped out, leaving my partner and I at odds over which steps to take next. And that’s when it hit me. We liked the idea of running a startup and making money while we were young, but we weren’t actually passionate about what we were doing. We weren’t passionate enough to pivot or to really sit down and figure out what we needed to do to take our seemingly perfect vision and make it a reality. Once things got hard we lost interest in the project and began making excuses that we just became “too busy,” rather than facing the cold reality: the magic was gone.

So I guess that’s where the “why you do” becomes more important than the “what you do.” It’s the reason Y Combinator will fund founders without an idea: the passion. You can’t start a startup that you’re not passionate about.

“You can get very discouraged if you like the idea of starting a company more than the idea of what you are trying build.” – Jason Fried

So don’t build a startup. Build something for you. Something that you would use. Something that you WANT to use. Hack something for fun, simplify something in your daily life, look at something small that annoys you and solve that problem. Then refine it, and maybe let your friends in on your little trick/project/life hack/whatever. If your friends find it useful, there’s a good chance someone else will. Try some keyword or trends research to see if there’s a possible market for your solution. If it looks like there’s enough interest out there, get out of the building and talk to people, put your product in their hands, and refine it some more. If it turns out there isn’t a market for it, well, then, I guess you at least made something cool that is uniquely yours.

Join our newsletter and get everything Unpluggd!

  • Mike McGee

    Great post Colin! This is something that other entrepreneurs don’t learn as fast as you did, even though I am sure that you probably would have wanted to get to this conclusion faster! Starting with a personal problem is one crucial stepping stone of building a successful product, web app, and/or company.

    Excited to see what you do next!