The word startup seems to be used too loosely in this day and age. Some people think something built in a weekend or over the course of time on the side is a full fledged startup, when it is often just a side project. Building things is great, more people should do it and do it often. The problem is, most people either take the leap at the wrong time OR they don't take a leap at all, when the signs are there. I recently went through this process a few months ago myself on taking PadPressed, now Onswipe to a full time startup. Here are the 8 things that I realized, which are telltale signs that you might be ready to turn your project to a full time startup.
You’re Doing Something You Love
This is key not only early on, but for the long haul. I know it sounds cliche and you hear this from everyone, but it's one of the most true and consistent pieces of advice given out in the startup world. Startups are a marathon and even though you often hear about the good times, you will rarely hear about the difficult times. There are always more difficult times than good times. Any normal person would just give up, pack it up, and return to the real world. If you absolutely love what you do, then there is a higher motive there that will keep you going on. The work you do needs to transcend being "work" and become even more than that.
You’re Making Revenue
Getting somebody to give you their credit card and their hard earned cash is way harder than most think. For some companies it will happen easily, but for most, it just doesn't. If you start making revenue that can pay your most basic expenses, you're on the right path. The difference between zero dollars and one dollar is huge. If you have figured out how to bring your first dollar in, you might be ready to take things to the next level. If those dollars are rapidly growing, even more reason to continue onwards.
You Know The BIG Vision
This is key and often an awkward point for most aspiring entrepreneurs. It's a side project, two guys in an apartment, nights, weekends,etc., so how is it possible to imagine going from that to being a multi-billion dollar company? It just feels really weird thinking about that, right? DON'T LET IT. It's a point you can get to, but it will never happen if you don't start to formulate those thoughts. Zuck started FB at one college with one photo, but I bet you he knew exactly what it could become one day. Having a larger vision to aspire to will motivate you to accomplish something grand. It will make you feel as if you are taking on the world, which you often will be. Realize that it doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen to great companies. Here is the one question I ask all startups I meet that ask me for in-depth advice: "If you succeed to your fullest extent, how will the world be a different place in five years?"
Your Big Vision Does Not Have A Ceiling
The problem with big visions is that the excitement of this big vision can often cloud the ceiling that it may have. You have to be going after a vision in a large market that has a very high ceiling. You won't get 100% penetration or possibly anything near it, so the market has to be large enough that you can continue going forward. Niche businesses can be nice, but they often lead you down a path of boredom. You hit your peak, make your money, but soon realize there isn't much more left to be done. You do either of two things: get bored, quit, and give up OR you try a new riskier direction. The riskier direction option can work, but it means that your initial business wasn't large enough. Find the big vision within a large market that has a lot of untapped potential.
You Are Ready To Be Selfless
This is a lesson I've recently spent a lot of time thinking about. I think it's one that not enough people talk about and is the most important thing an entrepreneur can know before going full time on a startup. You have to be 100% selfless. It is no longer just about you. You are really last on the totem pole. You have responsibility to more than just yourself or another cofounder. It's such an important piece of the puzzle that it needs to be broken down into three further points below.
You Have A Responsibility To Employees
Everything you do has to have the well being and care for your employees in mind. Every decision you make will have a small impact on your life, but it will have a large impact across the lives of so many others. It might even be 5 people at first, but those 5 people have family members, kids, loved ones, and many more that depend upon them. If you make a selfish or poor decision, it will end up having an impact on a large chain of people. Expand from 5 to 50 then 500 and you are now responsible for the lives of many many people. One of the people working with us hard at Onswipe has a young kid. One night on Skype when we were announcing our plans to expand I saw their kid walk into the room. That moment forever changed my life. I realized I was now responsible for so many more people than myself. If I screw this up, it impacts so many other individuals.
You Have A Responsibility To Customers
Customers will depend on your service working in order to do business and some core functionality of what makes them tick. You need to realize that the decisions you make will have an impact on those customers and their customers. They have trusted a core piece of their business to you. The product decisions and pricing decisions often have an impact on companies. Your customers trust you to perform a function and you need to keep yourself healthy for the long haul.
You Have A Responsibility To Investors
Your investors have probably been pitched by hundreds of other entrepreneurs throughout the year. They chose you and maybe a select few others to go take on the world. You have a responsibility to do well by them. If they are angel investors, they have trusted you with the money they have earned through the same exact hard earned blood, sweat, and tears you are currently going through. If they are venture investors, their job is to pick the best of the best. They have to provide returns to their LPs and also risk their reputations on your company. Yes, many venture backed companies fail, but they will go in expecting the worst, but hope for the best.
Keep in mind, you don't need to hit all of these points. You may just be at the idea stage and be nowhere close to achieving anything listed above. That's okay as I wish I had these points when I started as an entrepreneur. The points in this essay were adapted from a talk I gave at Plusconf. I will be giving a more polished and refined version of this talk at Columbia University in New York City at 7 pm this Friday - Details: http://bit.ly/gLzVHK.