Sascha Theobald asks bloggers to write down the most important advice for entrepreneurs. I thought it would be the perfect start for my own blog. In short about me: I have been self-employed for ten years with a web company and a record label and have recently started my start-up consulting “Middeldorf Consulting”, which, by the way, has a certain comedy here and there to found a start-up consulting. I mainly work with design thinking methods. Design Thinking is a process and mindset developed at Stanford University to create better products and services. The highlight of my consulting work is to help my clients to achieve individual and sustainable success through Design Thinking.
My blog is called Feierabend (closing time). The term “work” no longer plays a role in my life, because for me everything is one: life and work. That’s why I’m always off work. I want my customers to be able to achieve this.
Test your idea
But on the subject: My most important advice to founders is “Test your idea”. Of course you will say, of course we test our idea! But in reality hardly anyone does. A little story: Six years ago I went broke with a bistro. We’ve done pretty much everything wrong that can be done wrong. The classic mistakes of gastronomy: too high sales expectations, too high fixed costs, too little experience, wrong location. But we weren’t stupid, we were aware of the classic mistakes of the gastronomy. And how did we want to avoid these mistakes? With a great business plan! Did everyone believe what was in it? It just didn’t work. What was our main mistake? We did not test. Instead of investing tens of thousands of Euros before the first guest enters the store, we could have tried our idea. The idea was a bistro with dinner and electronic music. The shop was empty, we could have just invited thirty people and seen if it worked. We would have learned that people didn’t like dinner as much as we did. We would have learned that the neighbours didn’t like our music as much as we did. And we could have learned from our mistakes.
In design thinking this process is called prototyping. I advise founders to prototype their idea very early in the process. Depending on the business idea, this can look quite different. In my coaching sessions, this process plays an important role. As a rule, I suggest four types of prototyping:
Look for people who do similar things and are successful. What do they perhaps do differently than others? Also research your market potential. Is your idea trendy? Is there a demand? What are success factors?
One of the strongest tools that almost nobody uses is interviews. Find people who can give you valuable information. Find important people from the industry. Ask them if they have half an hour for an interview. Almost nobody will say no. Ask them how they became successful, what they did for it, what worked and what didn’t work, what mistakes they made. You learn a lot and build a network early. Important rule: It’s not about you. You can briefly introduce yourself, say who you are and what you intend to do. But then it’s about the interviewee. You must not give the impression that you want to make yourself known. Prepare yourselves like a journalist would do. That helps.
Sometimes it is not stupid to do an internship before starting your own business. However, this is expensive and difficult to organise. It is much easier to do an internship. You simply ask someone who does something similar to yours if you can get some impressions. That could be a few hours, a day or a week.
In the vast majority of cases, I cannot recommend that you resign immediately and go into business for yourself. Independence needs time to grow. Three years until you can live off it well are not uncommon. Most of them fall by the wayside until then. For example, you could only use evenings and weekends at first. The reduction to a four-day week is also popular. In one day you can do a lot as a self-employed person. So you can build up your business sustainably. And already the one free day helps to overcome the frustration at the workplace.
Testing ideas can be frustrating. And many are afraid of it like people who don’t go to the doctor because they are afraid that the doctor will tell them that they are sick. But it’s like it is: if the idea is bad, it doesn’t get better from being pulled through. It’s better to fail often and early – do a few more rounds – than just once late and then forever. This is the only way your business can function sustainably.