The Time is Always Now — Do It Before You’re Ready and Other Startup Tips
Launching a startup is like March Madness in that what happens in the season is just background to what happens in the tourney. What happens in your head or even in your office don’t matter unless it moves out of your head, out of your office, into the real world where it’s tested.
Worst case, you’re out in round one and you reevaluate in the off-season. Best case you get invaluable tourney experience that propels you to be better in all the ways you need to improve and next season is a different story.
This is a story about entrepreneurship and basketball. It’s also a love letter (of sorts) to my husband who once upon a time fell in love with a sports girl.
Did you fill out an NCAA basketball tourney bracket? If so, you’re one of about 40 million Americans who participates in March Madness by filling out more than 70 million brackets and betting more than $2 billion on college basketball.
The odds of picking a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion: you’re more likely to die an excruciating death by vending machine, become president, win the Mega Millions jackpot or die from incorrectly using products made for right-handed people (if you’re a lefty) than fill out a perfect NCAA basketball bracket. DePaul University math professor Jeff Bergen did the math. The odds are undoubtedly worse now. More people. Less certainty. Of course, Trump became president and a 16-seed upset a 1-seed, so there’s that.
For those of you who’ve read me before, you know as part of my entrepreneurial journey and my writing, I’m committed to the Elon Musk method of relating unrelated things for experimental purposes. In this case, it’s March Madness and coaching. Not basketball coaching, but life coaching (for lack of a better term) and yes, I know talking about coaching in the context of talking about basketball but not meaning basketball coaching is confusing. Sorry. Stay with me.
March Madness is a numbers game, and so is business. The odds are never totally in our favor, but that doesn’t stop die-hard fans from studying the advantages all season, following pundits and oddsmakers, and believing they have a shot at winning their bracket.
The odds are never totally in our favor, but that also doesn’t stop entrepreneurs from launching businesses despite dismal odds either, believing they have a shot of building something sustainable. Only about a third of all new companies last a decade, and about 6 in 10 startups last the first three years.
I launched LUXIcoach in early 2018, so I’m still in the honeymoon stage, but I’ve been reading and studying relentlessly for several months. In fact, I probably hit the information saturation point sometime last fall, so recently I’ve dialed back on information overload and scaled up on productivity. Basically, I’m trying to do more than think. It’s not easy for me, I’m a thinker and a planner.
Greg Faxon is one of the information sources I follow. He’s a coach’s coach. His website says he helps coaches grow their business faster. I like his understated style, his pragmatism, and his generosity. He gives away a lot of great info for free. Recently I watched a panel of five coaches talk about getting your first clients.
My takeaway from this panel, from a lot of his material, and actually from a number of unrelated sources is this — just coach. Coach your ass off. Whatever it is that is the thing you are trying to get going, do it. Doing it is the way to get to the next level. Not planning, not strategizing, not forecasting. Yes, you need a website, yes, you need a business plan, yes, you need a mentor, yes, you need a marketing strategy, yes, you need experience, yes, you need credentials, the list goes on. Of course, you need those things, but you know what you need more? Clients. Without clients, you aren’t a coach.
At some point you’ll also need revenue, but not today. Today, you need to become a coach and that means coaching. And, you must be able to pitch (not a sports reference) which means you have to be able to talk about what you are doing, why it matters, and convince people to pay you to be the one to do it for them. So just coach. Practice your pitch, get some clients, coach. Coach and coach and coach some more and you’ll get where you’re wanting to go. I don’t mean to minimize the realities or struggles of a startup, but you can’t get lost in it either. Like I said, March Madness is a numbers game, and so is entrepreneurship.
It’s a deeply explored topic. James Altucher attributes his compounding method to his sister and credits it to saving his life. “Do one thing a day. That’s it. It compounds. One thing becomes two. Two becomes Four. And so on. That’s how you climb up. Life compounds. For me, it started to compound when I did just one small thing a day. Then those small things would turn into opportunities. Then they would turn into actions. Then they would turn into executions.”
Seth Godin calls it shipping. He talks about releasing the thing you’ve been working on to the world, just letting it out to see what happens and how it’s against our instinct to do it. “You — everyone in fact — have all it takes to be a brilliant designer, creator, or author. All that’s holding you back is the lizard. It’s that little voice in the back of your head, the “but” or the “what if” that speaks up at the crucial moment and defeats the joy and insight you brought to the project in the first place”.
Jeff Goins puts shipping in slightly more inspirational terms: “Time to give up your obsession with perfection and do what you were made to do: Create. Time to put your work in front of the people it was intended to impact. You were not put on this earth to make perfect things. You were made to create change. To do something remarkable with your skills”.
Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader coined the term “outsight” to describe the valuable perspective gained through actions: “You can only learn what you need to know about your job and about yourself by doing it — not by just thinking about it."
Richard Branson’s method is “screw it, just do it”: “If you have an idea that can improve other people’s lives, then don’t just talk about it, put it into practice. It is the entrepreneurs who change the world, change countries, and employ all the new people.”
It’s not even new advice really. It’s just trending again (or maybe I’ve just rediscovered it so I think it’s trending). In a 2004 Entrepreneurship Conference at Harvard Business School, “It’s easy to confuse action with progress. There are lessons I’ve learned that I couldn’t have learned any other way. If you want to start a business, you have to start a business.”
But what if I’m not ready? What if it’s not good enough? What if I need more time? That’s the little voice Godin and others suggest you ignore. You might need more time. If you’re young, inexperienced, lack self-awareness or resources, you might fail. So what? Of course I’m being flippant, but failure is part of the process. Get in the game, play hard, see what happens. Worst case, you’re out in round one and you reevaluate in the off-season. Best case you get invaluable tourney experience that propels you to be better in all the ways you need to improve and next season is a different story.
You just gotta play. You just gotta shoot baskets. Over and over and over. Dribble more. Play pickup. Get better. Launching a startup is also like March Madness in that what happens in the season is just background to what happens in the tourney. What happens in your head or even in your office don’t matter unless it moves out of your head, out of your office, into the real world where it’s tested.
If you want to run a business, build a legacy, make a difference, you must act. Go for it. “Facing fear, having faith and moving through “analysis paralysis” — are universal truths for entrepreneurs at all levels.”
Successful people know that they need to start before they’re ready. Ask yourself: 1) Is The Opportunity Big Enough? 2) Is The Idea Meaningful Enough? and 3) Who is Your Target Audience? and then set a date. “One of the problems when you don’t have a set date is that you allow yourself to talk, talk, and talk, plan, plan, and plan,” Yasmin Belo-Osagie, co-founder of non-profit organization She Leads Africa , explains. “There’s always more planning to be done. When you set a date, it forces you to do it, to focus on the essentials and everything else will eventually fall into place.”
So I took the advice of so many and in the spirit of March Madness, I thought there’s no better time than the present to go for it. I made a list of 153 women that I want to coach. I thought about making my list bracket-style but that seemed a little over the top (but cute, right?) Then I sat down and emailed, called, or texted (mostly texted) 38 of them.
Why 153? Because 150 was my first-round goal, but then I thought of 3 more I couldn’t bear to leave off the list. Why 38? Because that’s all I had the stamina for in my first outreach (I’m a mom of 3 first after all and that’s my first priority, so business has to fit in after their needs are met).
My pitch was simple, to outright ask the women if they would be interested in letting me coach them for free then directing them to my website and suggesting if they were interested, they could let me know. It wasn’t a sophisticated marketing funnel, lead page, artful pitch or anything more than a simple text request because I’m focused on volume and I started with women I know and respect and want to coach. They’ll be good clients because they are good people and I’m confident in my abilities.
Why free? Because money isn’t the most important thing to me right now. Of course, it matters. Still a mom of three, but building a long-term sustainable business that gives me 10–20 years of rich income, flexibility, and customization that allows me to put my family first for my children’s entire childhoods matters more. It matters most.
I want to create a business that facilitates amazing relationships, profound transformations, a community of like-minded women, offers a legacy, and makes the world a better place. That’s a long-term proposition. It takes a lot of free throws. Practice. Practice. Practice. “Don’t build a startup, build a business instead.”
I’m committed and I want this to work, but it absolutely has to serve my family first. So, I give what I can give in the uber-productive hours that I’ve designated and then I let it rest. I let it rest so I can rest, so I’m fresh, so I can give my best to my family, so I can take care of myself, and so I can have time to live.
Slow down. That’s my takeaway from Jason Kidd, one of my fave old-school basketball stars: “Slowing down was the opposite of how I approached the game. I didn’t see the point. Coming into the league, I knew I had two strengths: I could post guys up. And I was fast. Why would I want to take away one of my advantages? Looking back, my mistake was that I only had one gear. The fastest gear. There’s a saying in basketball, “Let the play develop.” Two and a half years into the league, I started to figure out what it meant. Passing lanes appeared out of nowhere. My options multiplied. The court opened up and the game slowed down.”
I’m offering my very valuable and high-value services for free, in the (strategic) hope that it will pay off later. I’m not in a hurry because I have faith that I’ll get there. I’m excited for the game to take shape, to see the passing lanes appear out of nowhere and my option multiply. I am giving myself a deadline though, 18 months (I’m currently in month 3/4) to replace my former income ($200k/year) and 3 years to double it. I’ll keep you posted.
So how did my March Madness experiment pan out? I reached out to 38 women. 18 committed with little to no hesitation. 18. Freaking 18!! That’s 47%. Marketers (and bracketeers) would kill for those odds. Only three opted out, and one of the three that opted out sent a referral my way. Ah-maz-ing. Which means only 17 haven’t replied yet or are currently contemplating. That’s basically a 50–50%. Nice little momentum going over here. I’ll take those odds.
I’m fired up! And I’m still planning on working those 17. And like I said, I’m in it for the long haul. I recently set in on a webinar that reminded me of the new/old rule of thumb that it takes the average person 7 touch points with a person/brand before they decide to buy (or in this case try). That’s because it’s a busy busy world and sometimes it takes 7 times for it to hit their news feed or even register, to move from subconscious awareness to actionable engagement. That’s ok with me. I’m writing. I’m showing up on their social feeds. I bump into some of them IRL. My brand is new and that’s part of it. Don’t forget I still have 112 on my list. And that’s just my initial list. Exciting!
If you want to try, or know someone who would, check out LUXIcoach. I’d be glad to add you to the roster.
Carry on March Madness fans. Enjoy the tourney. Go Villanova!! That’s my pick over North Carolina with a game total of 181. My process for choosing March Madness champions is pretty random. Some years I pick on mascots, or team colors, which locations I’d rather visit, political affiliations, basically whatever I’m in the mood for that season.
I’m solidly in 40th place. Don’t count me out though. I’ve won the March Madness pool. Twice. Don’t they say good things come in threes?
PS: When prepping for this story, I also read a stat that said more people choose a bracket than vote. Come on America. That’s just embarrassing. Know your priorities. Think about long-term consequences once in awhile. Ok, lecture over. Carry on March Madness fans. Enjoy the tourney.