A few months back, I was sitting on a panel for the Entrepreneurs Network at Georgia State University. The basic topic was "Starting a Company" or something to that effect. On the panel were 3 or 4 reasonably successful entrepreneurs, and two business professors. One prof in particular was just massively qualified, and I remember thinking "God, what could I possibly say that could be of any value relative to this guy?"
So, about halfway through a girl asks what she should keep in mind as she starts a T-shirt company.
The Professor goes into a 10-minute answer about the importance of Service Level Agreements, Customer Relationship Management software, Process Flows, and God knows what else. It was quite intimidating. The moderator says "anyone have anything else to add?" I screwed up the courage to follow him, and replied: "Quickbooks."
Here's the thing: It's hard to start a business. But it's a lot harder to start a business if you never actually start one. Sure, some businesses need a lot of money and fancy models and such. But this girl is starting a T-shirt company and doesn't know how to get started. You're starting a consulting practice or an accounting firm or a software company. You need to get started. You need to get a customer; the sooner the better.
1. Have your great idea.
2. Do a little research.
3. Be plagued with self doubt.
4. When the self-doubt subsides, reevaluate.
5. Go for it.
6. Get a separate checking account.
8. Get a copy of Quickbooks or Freshbooks.
9. Get a customer.
As you grow all of the fancy stuff will begin to matter, but if you do all of the fancy stuff first you will:
A. Get all the wrong fancy stuff (because once you get a customer, everything will change and you will learn that what you thought you needed is all wrong).
B. Reduce your chances of succeeding because you will spend a lot of money. Money that could sustain you a little longer on your quest for a customer.
C. Increase the chances of never getting started. Because the more it costs to get started the scarier it is, and the more likely that self-doubt will win the battle.
Am I oversimplifying? You bet. But my point is this: Don't get caught up in trying to figure everything out before you get started. You can't. Figure out how to get a customer. Repeat.
Ripple has the same problem. The business gets more complex and we lose focus. But I left vowing to remember to keep keeping it simple: Get a customer, do what I promised. The rest is chatter.