Starting a Startup

How to know if you can actually execute your business idea [The Entrepreneur's Manifesto]

Note: This article is written mostly from the perspective of tech startups because the comparisons I make are easy to explain from this vantage point.  In reality, this applies to any business venture. 

We already talked about why your business idea doesn’t matter (and what actually does).  There,  I said that the value of a startup or a business is in your ability to execute.

Great ideas are completely irrelevant without being able to execute.

I think most new entrepreneurs would read this and understand it to a certain point.  ”OK, just because I have a good idea for the next Facebook isn’t enough.  No one’s going to fund my idea just because I came up with it”

But that’s about as far as their understanding goes.

“Well that’s fine; I will just hustle and go find myself a technical co-founder and by-oh-golly I’ll be starting my tech startup by this time next month”

Believe me, it is possible to get programmers on board (I’ve done it).  It’s possible to get people interested and initially excited with your startup idea.  The sales pitch is the easy part:

Getting people to say they’ll help you with your project is barely the beginning.

Think about it: even if you could convince programmers, do you know enough about how to manage them?  Did you provide them with enough of an incentive to make them stick around?  Do you know that the product they are making is what you actually want / need? [click to continue…]

The #1 mistake to avoid when coming up with business ideas [The Entrepreneur's Manifesto]

This article is Part 1 in The Entrepreneur’s Manifesto: 6 Simple Techniques to Startup Mastery.

Gather ’round the campfire my dear friends, for today, we begin our hero’s journey down the road of entrepreneurship with the Entrepreneur’s Manifesto.

We start by asking a super-basic question of which the proper understanding is 100% essential to startup success.

Have you ever noticed that tons of people love the “idea” of being an entrepreneur…

…but did you ever stop to think about what it actually means to be an entreprenuer?  Like, if someone were to ask you “how would you define an entrepreneur” (dictionary style, baby!), what would you say?

I think most people would say something like this:

“Yeah man, they make cool companies and come up with kickass products!”

“They make tons of money working for themselves!”

“They didn’t want to work 9-5, so they gave the middle finger salute to their boss and went to work for themselves!”

“RC, why are you asking so many stuuuuupid questions?”

Because all of those definitions are wrong, and only one definition actually matters:

Entrepreneurs solve other people’s problems, and are compensated for doing so. [click to continue…]

If your first business venture is innovative, you’re doing something wrong

Starting a business for the first time?

What’s your business idea?… a tech startup?  A product that will completely change the world?  A “Yelp for geriatrics”?

Before you get too excited, I must warn you:

If your idea is some world-changing, paradigm shifting technology or concept, you’re basically sinking your own ship before it even leaves the harbor.


I’ll put it plainly:

Most people I’ve met who are starting a business for the first time (myself included when I started) have essentially no clue what’s needed to actually successfully start a company.

Everything’s a shot in the dark.

Which is fine…shooting in the dark is how first-time entrepreneurs learn.

But if your business idea is something that’s so much of an uphill battle that it’s basically rock climbing…something way outside of your skillset and ability to executre…what do you think your chances of success are?

I’m not here to discourage you.  In fact, I’ve got a perfect idea that can help solve this problem:

Go start a foundational business first.

What’s a foundational business?

foundational business is a business that’s really easy for you to execute.

foundational business is characterized by these key elements:

  • The idea is straightforward and easy to understand (i.e. not very innovative).
  • The idea primarily uses skills you already have.
  • Can be implemented in a matter of weeks, or even days.
  • Something you have a high degree of control over (i.e. not relying on other people to keep things moving).
  • Has a super-straightforward way of making money (i.e. not “well this is Yelp + Facebook + freemium + ads”…I mean as easy as “You do X and you get paid Y”)

A foundational business teaches you the business acumen and mindsets needed to actually run a company.

You take the foundations you built with your foundational business, and apply them to a bigger venture when you’re ready. [click to continue…]

Do this to get kickass mentors to help you with your venture

A couple weeks ago I berated my readers for not having mentors to help them through the trials and tribulations of starting a business.

What I didn’t talk about, though, was how to get kickass mentors to willingly give their time and energy to help you accomplish your startup and entrepreneurial goals.

Don’t think I just wanted to leave you hanging.

While you were in shock and licking your wounds from that article, I was out finding someone I could interview…someone who had already found phenomenal success in finding awesome mentors…so I could bring them on over to Decoding Startups to share their knowledge with everyone here.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to report that my search was successful.

Enter Liz Seda.

Liz is the writer over at A Life on Your Termswhich teaches how to live a purposeful, meaningful life on our own terms.

Liz’s life story–which she talks about on her blog and a bit in our interview–is extremely interesting (my favorite part is how she got into college without taking the SAT.  I wish I had that one figured out in  high school!!!), and her accomplishments impressive.

I cajoled Liz into giving this interview because she is actively working with some awesome mentors in the blogosphere- Scott Dinsmore and Leo Babauta.  When I heard this, I knew she’d be a perfect interviewee for my segment on finding kickass mentors.

Common concerns people have about finding mentors we addressed:

  • How do I even start to approach a mentor?
  • How do I provide value to a potential mentor?  Aren’t I just taking all of their time?
  • Tons of people ask them for things: how do I stick out?
  • How do I make the relationship mutually beneficial for them, even though they’re smarter / more knowledgeable than I am?

 Check the interview out here.

Some of the best insights from the interview:

  • How a 15-paragraph e-mail convinced an A-list blogger to take her under his wings (and they said “short e-mails are better”!).
  • How providing value before asking for anything in return earned her the respect and admiration of 2 A-list bloggers.
  • How much easier things have been for her after building relationships with ultra-helpful mentors.

Here’s the big takeaways from the interviews:

  • Always ask how you can provide value to someone else before trying to take value.
  • Business = people; people = relationships.  Focus on the people and relationship element first.
  • You probably can offer value to people with more experience and expertise than you…just be creative with how you do it (Liz was able to!).

In the comments below, elaborate a bit on your mentors.  How did you get them?  How did you convince them to help you?


Why you’re dumb if you don’t have mentors

 One of the dumbest things you can do is to go it alone when you start your business.

No, I’m not necessarily talking about business partners (though your life is so much easier if you can find good business partners).

I’m talking about mentors.  People that willingly give their time and expertise to help you avoid making a barrage of dumbass mistakes, and help you spend your energy doing only value-added things.

I’ve always included finding mentors in the top list of things you can do now to be an entrepreneur.

Here’s why:

You’re not that smart….

…in fact, you’re probably destructively dumb.

Don’t take it the wrong way: I’m not too smart either, and have been destructively dumb way too many times in my ventures…

So what do I mean by destructively dumb?

Mentors: more than just icing on the cake (they’re more like the cake itself)

But if the cake has no icing to begin with, the metaphor fails.

But if the cake has no icing to begin with, the metaphor fails.

[click to continue…]

The #1 Worst Reason to Want to be an Entrepreneur- Is it yours?

Do you want to be an entrepreneur for the most fatal, most killer reason out there?

When I first chose to eschew the prospects of a standard 9-5 career and nosedive directly into entrepreneurship, I was blissfully unaware of the challenges that laid ahead.

Cocky voice inside my head: “Come on RC, this won’t be hard.  You’re smart, you’ve got ideas, and you’re a badass sexy MOFO…get out there and make us some money!”

Me (replying to cocky voice): “Ok!”

Hah…how foolish I was.

Damn you, cocky voice inside my head.  Although I’m grateful you got me thinking about entrepreneurship and got me to stop making excuses and start doing, I’m pretty pissed off you had it all wrong on 1 crucial account:

You sold me the #1 worst reason to be an entrepreneur.

You thought it would be easy to just start makin’ money and plowing it in.

Voice: “RC, you’ll struggle for a month or two…but I bet you’ll start raking in some cash after about the third month….give it a year, you’ll be pulling in $60-70 grand easy.  We’ll be rich!”

At this point I get slightly freaked out the cocky voice inside my head refers to itself as an entity distinct from me.

What I’ve realized from my entrepreneurial journey is this:

Entrepreneur journey

There’s way too many metaphors in this photo that relate to my entrepreneurial journey to count.

If your goal going into starting a business is to make tons of money quickly up front, you’re going into it for the wrong reason, and you’ll not only a.) fail to meet your goals, you’ll also b.) cause yourself a mountain of unnecessary anguish along the way.

Why? [click to continue…]

3 Surprisingly Simple Steps to Overcoming Fear of Entrepreneurship

We’re always afraid of our first time:

Our first time driving

Our first time giving a speech

Our first time…you know…

But somehow, with all (hopefully!) of these things, we overcame our fears, and learned how to drive, speak, and…you know…

We overcame our fears because we actively learned about these things, and over time, we came to be pretty damn good at them.

But what happens if I tell you apply that same line of reasoning to entrepreneurship?

Just like you did with driving for the first time, what do you think about trying entrepreneurship, knowing you won’t be perfect at first, and aiming for long-term improvement?

Most People: “Oh no, I can’t do that!  What if I really mess up?  But RC that was just driving a car!    

Me: *facepalm*, walks away…


I’ve already talked about how—by the end of the day—it’s up to you to call your own bluff  to stop making the excuses that keep you from embracing your inner entrepreneur and to start on your own.

But calling your own bluff is hard.  We’ve spent years being taught that we should go to college and to “fear risk”, and to be “grateful for our jobs“.  We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that entrepreneurship is “really risky”, and that the worry of failing is powerful enough to never try, and instead take an excruciating, soul-sucking corporate job in a kiddie-sized cubicle, complete with Windows XP and squeaky office chair with a broken back.

Can you really just call your own bluff and cast aside years of subconscious conditioning, just like that?

You can, if you think of calling your bluff in terms of specific, actionable steps, like the 3 here:

Step #1: Fight Fear with Facts

Do you fear entrepreneurship because you researched your options and considered specific paths and different strategies, and realized that your likelihood of success was small?

Or do you just fear entrepreneurship…just because it “seems” scary?

I wrote an article for the Change Blog about fighting fear with facts.  The notion is simple: the more you stop whining and start actually learning about what goes into success in entrepreneurship and in your field, the less there is to fear, because you will know what to do.

For example, before even writing a single word on Decoding Startups, I spent hundreds of hours researching content creation and blog development strategies.  This let me hit the ground running and gain an amazing number of awesome subscribers in record time.

My results aren’t by accident.  They sure as hell weren’t by luck.  Success came through fighting fear with facts, realizing that good ideas are “stolen”, and executing. [click to continue…]

2013- The Year of Focus and Getting Started

It’s December 31, 2013…

You’re sitting with friends, anxiously waiting for the ball to drop.

You’re laughing over a bottle of champagne, and your mind flips back to today…January 3, 2013…

Because you become philosophical when you drink, you’ll remember that you read an article on Decoding Startups pointing out that the way to accomplish success in life—whether it be in entrepreneurship, love, personal finance, losing weight, or anything—is through setting goals, and being in it for the long term.

What will life be like for the December 31 2013 you?

What will you have done?

Will you have followed through on your goals?

Will you have even set them?

Will you be sharing with your friends how your meticulously planned business venture paid off?

Or will you be complaining with your pals about how much your job sucks; and that you’d like to do something else, but can’t “figure out how”?

Will your 2013 be your year of accomplishment? 

Ramit Sethi, my favorite blogger who writes on I Will Teach You To Be Rich, calls 2013 the “year of taking control”…the year of actively seeking to understand ourselves and the world better–the “game being played around us” as Ramit says–and taking meaningful effort and undergoing meaningful change to accomplish great things.

For me–and likely for you too–that meaningful change comes through entrepreneurship.

And I want the you of December 31, 2013 to be proud: proud of your amazing accomplishments; proud of the execution of a new business venture; proud that you had the opportunity to learn amazing things through failure and success alike.

How is the January 3rd you going to make the December 31st you proud and successful?

I introduce you to the Year of Focus and the Year of Getting Started

[click to continue…]

What Gossip Girl taught me about entrepreneurship

What can a primetime TV show about the drama-infused social lives of 20 year olds living in the Upper East Side whose great-great grandparents had so much money that they don’t need jobs teach about success in entrepreneurship?

Not even a very nice car...

Not even a very nice car…

Enter gossip Girl: a revealing glance into the seemingly-glitzy, yet actually completely eff’d-up lives of people who have nothing but time on their hands and money in their wallets.  And what do they do with time when they’re not shopping for the perfect Patek Philippe to match their exactingly-chosen two-button, peak-lapel Canali suit, paired boldly with Salvatore Ferragamo Corrado shoes, Hermes Arc en ceil tie, Tiffany Metropolis cufflinks, and Ralph Lauren Purple Label Aston Gingham shirt?

Systematically fucking each other over, that’s what.

Ceaseless love triangles (I think there were a few love quadrilaterals), occasionally with someone from–gasp!–Brooklyn!…

…faux, fluid friendships formed around manipulation and chicanery…

…all for the sake of being the “it” girl…the “queen bee”…or using their trust funds to start companies with the purpose of proving to the world that they can “do it all on their own”.  …wut?…

…all neatly compacted into 1-hour segments that I like to watch on Netflix when I’m bored.

I hadn’t watched Gossip Girl for about a year, until it popped up as a recommended video on Netflix.

“Do I want to get myself back into this?”, I pondered…”‘cuz you know when you start, you’re not gonna stop watching until the very end.”

“Fuck it”, said I, and I took the plunge.

Sidenote- please do not think poorly of me, a 23 year old guy, for watching Gossip Girl. [click to continue…]

Why not having a “good business idea” doesn’t matter at all (and what actually does matter)

Avoiding entrepreneurship because you don’t have a good startup idea?

I reached out to some of my new subscribers over the weekend, and asked them what their biggest obstacle to entrepreneurship was.

The answer I got the most: “I don’t have a good business idea.”

Whenever I hear people tell me they “can’t be entrepreneurs” because they “can’t come up with a good business idea”, I want to instantly go jiu jitsu on their ass and karate kick them across the room.  (Yes, entrepreneurship does bring out my usually-latent violent side).

Why do I go super saiyan on these poor, unsuspecting would-be entrepreneurs?  Is it because I watched too much Dragonball Z as a kid?  Do I just have issues that require professional help?  Or could it be because…

“Having a good idea” isn’t even a prerequisite to successfully starting a company! [click to continue…]