Today’s post… a plug for my book – Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success – is now in hardcopy! You can pick up the paperback on Amazon for $13.99 (or ebook for $5.99).
I originally published the book as an ebook in early January. Got a lot of great feedback including Amazon reviews like…

I want to start using the book to teach other entrepreneurs before meeting with me. One of the reasons why I wrote the book was because of how often entrepreneurs shared challenges described in the book.
If you’re looking to get your venture off the ground, your idea out of your head, or have a startup in-flight looking to grow, get the book on Amazon.

Today’s post — I’m taking today and tomorrow off. Well, mostly.

Be sure to take time off for yourself, too.

I want to build on last Tuesday’s “The Challenges of Consulting With Startups”. More specifically, I want to stress the reason an early-stage startup brings on an agency or consultancy – it’s capacity.
Capacity is the hired help to augment the team. At SalesWise, our team is vastly experienced in driving success – what to execute and how. What we struggle with is the execution when we have 20 sales calls to make, 4 demos, 2 support tickets, and a kick-off call.
What I’ve found to be ineffective for most consultants is when they come in wanting to do big bang changes and huge strategy sessions. Our environment changes rapidly. We are not ready for big bang changes. We need to execute, learn, iterate.
So if you want to consult with a startup, have an eye on the larger strategy, sure. You have value for early-stage companies in this area. But one of the best ways to implement that strategy is getting “stuck in”. Roll up your sleeves, and take on a more “staff aug” role to understand how we work, what our challenges are, start executing what we need (there’s a reason why we need it yesterday), and then, layer in the strategy as we learn.
We need agility. We need flexibility. We need execution. (That goes for you, too, Mr./ Ms. Consultant.)
Writing a speech, writing a book, writing a blog post… I realized recently that they all start similarly (at least for me). They differ in revisions and rehearsing, if any. Starting off, I take a moment to think about the subject. I either start with an outline or just start writing (or dictating).
I get a lot of questions about how to start a blog, what to write about, or in the case most recently, perfecting a speech. The hardest part is starting out and putting together the first draft.
To that end, if you’ve got an upcoming talk or want to start blogging, here’s my method on how to start.
1.     Think about the subject, and go through a creative learning process with some research – online and/ or in-person.
2.     Are there requirements or limitations? Delivery style, can you use images, max length, etc. Consider these to narrow the scope.
3.     I want my material to be as authentic and casual as possible, so I typically do not go through a huge brainstorming conquest. Instead, I jot down a few ideas in a loose outline. This helps me think about the flow of the material conceptually.
4.     Go. That is, I either write everything in my head according to the flow I’ve created, or I simply dictate (record myself speaking). This gives me the benefit of allowing my thoughts to flow, naturally.
5.     After completing the first round, I don’t make any edits. Instead, I sleep on whatever I’ve written for a couple days. This allows my ideas to crystallize further while allowing me to come back to version 1.0 with fresh eyes.
It’s simple to start. Let the ideas flow. It’s important to realize that starting out really isn’t as hard as you make it out to be if you approach this more casually and naturally.
From there, it’s about seeking feedback on how to make the draft better, if needed. For my blog posts, for better or worse (you tell me!), I go through two rounds of editing/ read-through. For Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success, I went through four “official” rounds of editing with a number of editors. For my F-Up Night talk in January, I made perhaps three material iterations. I did several practice runs, however.
For any share, it’s important to draw a line in the sand and decide when what you have is ready — refer to Des Traynor’s recommendation on launching a product. You can spend weeks or months (or years) trying to make something perfect. But rarely is it the content that makes your share perfect. Instead, it’s the delivery.
Just start.
The challenges of consulting with startups goes well beyond just “price” (read: “tight budgets”). Many wantrepreneurs and entrepreneurs try branching out on their own by consulting. They believe it’s a great fit with some experience (“expertise”) and startup enthusiasm. Not quite.
I have spent a lot of time consulting with startups after Body Boss. Today, I sit on the other side of the table hiring consultants at SalesWise. With both perspectives, I want to share the challenges I see.
  • Consultants want to bring too much structure to an agile environment. For most consulting entrepreneurs, strategy consulting is where the fun is – it’s like being a part of the vision of the startup. Many see opportunities to bring their experience from big brands and apply “best practices” to startups. This could mean big strategy sessions, long timelines, and structured deliverables. However, for startups, especially early-stage companies, heavy structure won’t last simply because the company is still learning and iterating too fast.
  • Startups want to hire you for X, but they really mean X… + Y + Z. With time and budget constraints, startup employees wear multiple hats. Same applies for consultants to a degree – consultants should be capable of having a comprehensive skill set within a functional area (marketing, sales, design). For example, if you’re a marketing consultant, know communication, social media, and website. Some graphics chops will do you good, too. For design, be able to design + code + CSS.
  • The day the startup says they need help, they actually needed you a while ago. Startups work real fast, and employees are swamped managing what’s in front of them. So when issues start to arise, not much happens until it reaches a critical point. As a consultant, this means you are needed TODAY. Startups have investors to appease. We have to quadruple the current pipeline. We need to launch, learn, and iterate as fast as able.
  • I’d be silly if I still didn’t say, “money”. This is a given, but it’s surprising this is still a shock to many consultants. They believe they can charge the same rate they do with larger enterprises. That may be your “market rate” with enterprises, but realize that your target customers (startups) is a different market. Thus, your real market rate is quite different.

These are challenges/ realizations. However, challenges straddle the “opportunities line”. I made a good living before as a consultant to startups, and I loved the energy of my clients and seeing my actions make a difference almost daily. There’s a give and take, but that’s why you work with startups. It’s not all about the money. It’s about the challenge, the opportunity, the learning.

John Greathouse wrote back in May about practicing entrepreneurship with a purpose. John talks about deliberate actions before (or during) diving into entrepreneurship.
It’s a great reminder-type post as to what drives many entrepreneurs beyond building a company and, yes, the chance at making a substantial lifestyle change. For many – me being one of them – there’s a drive and passion about the challenge and impact of building something great from nothing.
A few points John shared that I strive to practice everyday:
  • “Advise A Startup”. I love speaking to startups, entrepreneurs, and wantrepreneurs. Networking is great, but hearing the problems others are solving and how is highly educational. As John also said, teaching others is a great way to amplify and accelerate learning.
  • “Don’t Throw Up, Speak Up”. I grew up as an introvert, but realizing what I wanted to achieve, I wanted to be more extroverted. So, I hacked my personality for years and got comfortable doing uncomfortable things (i.e. giving presentations as often as possible, meeting others by simply starting with “hi”, etc. It starts with deliberate, small actions. Overtime, it gets easier – not totally comfortable, but you develop a strength to be successful at it.
  • “Entrepreneur It”. Entrepreneurship really builds on my past life as a consultant (looking for problems, finding solutions, and implementing solutions). I do this often in everyday life including random interviews of flight attendants during flights or door-to-door surveys at local restaurants. There are problems everywhere, and you can exercise that creative, problem-solving muscle everywhere, too.

Find ways to practice entrepreneurship with a purpose. Take small, deliberate actions consistently. You’ll be amazed how opportunities start to flow. Then, take the leap.

I often hear how building a startup is like getting an MBA but on the job. Having an MBA and built a couple startups, I can say that it’s true… at least, partially. The downside of learning as you go is the otherwise lack of guidance and not knowing what you don’t know.
When I was at Body Boss, I had little experience in sales and marketing; however, I was the “Head of Business Development”. In a startup with three other partners with no experience in business development, I was the head, the foot, and the @$$.
I was always heads-down trying to figure everything out. I needed to learn a lot while tending to everything in front of me. This meant I didn’t dedicate time to self-development. Meanwhile, I was deep in the weeds without stepping back to see if I was oriented in the right direction.
Since Body Boss, I’ve taken steps to help cover the areas I don’t know while also accelerating learning in the areas that I care deeply about. (E.g. I’m no longer learning how to build iOS apps!)
Two ways I’m proactively seeking to deep learning:
  • Read books! I used to hate reading growing up – the books did not interest me. Meanwhile at Body Boss, I wore so many hats that I focused on short online articles so I could maintain breadth of learning. Now that I’m doubling down on sales and marketing (growth), I am seeking depth in my self-education by reading specialized books (reading The Challenger Sale now).
  • Seek mentors, coaches. I’m a big connector/ networker, so it’s curious why I didn’t reach out earlier for help and guidance. Perhaps I was too cocky to seek help before. Four years into this startup life, I’m wiser knowing there are plenty of people who know more than me and can help. I have mentors guiding me – talking entrepreneurship and other facets of life that influence my vision and goals. I’ve also actively sought out coaches – experts in specific areas who can guide me.

Startups and entrepreneurship have ignited a deeper hunger to learn. I’m definitely not a know-it-all. Instead, I’ve become a learn-it-all. Well, learn with specificity.

Ash Mauryarecently wrote in Entrepreneur an article titled “Traction Is What Investors Are Looking for When You Present Your Plan”. Ash writes that investors are looking for traction, above all other criteria like market opportunity and competitive advantage.
Ash’s definition of traction is:

rate at which a business model captures monetizable value from its users

Before Ash describes the definition of traction, he shares his thoughts on value…
  • Created value > captured value. That is, the value a customer receives is greater than the value the company receives (the customer pays).
  • Captured value ≥ cost (delivering solution). This is simplistically understanding revenue is greater than (or equal to) cost.
  • Created value ≥≥ cost.

This is a pretty simple to understand. For companies looking for investment (well, any company looking to be successful), it’s important to understand traction and all the drivers thereof. As an early-stage startup wiggles and fights its way towards product-market fit (or service-market fit), traction will likely be near-flat. But as the company reaches product-market fit, that traction curve starts to climb fast. Here, focus turns towards customer acquisition, and thus, the sales and marketing machine commences.

Understanding what traction is is important, and just as important is understanding the real value you are creating for your consumers. If you can help your consumers capture great value, then can you start to build traction. Value àtraction. Value does not = traction. That requires some marketing and sales, but value is fundamental.

I’m back to running non-stop these days to the point everyone is wondering what’s going on in my head, let alone where the heck am I, and why am I working at 2/ 4AM weekdays AND weekends.
Indeed, I’ve felt a bit… occupied. So much so that I’ve forgotten a lot of my usual tasks and daily routines (like eating). If you were thinking about what it’s like to run with an early-stage startup, this could be you.
Luckily, there are still several things I do (trying to get to consistency) to keep myself “stable” and operating at peak condition. One of those is still reading and learning to which, the following are posts that are standing out in my head.

I share these because it’s always interesting to see what is resonating and leaves residues over time. Could point to me a realization to take time off.