Sure, I’m being a bit facetious but the reality is that it’s never been easier to put together the basic building blocks of a serious venture and business, especially if it’s a technology-driven company.
If anything, I hope you can learn something from my process and, at the very least understand my thinking. Perhaps most importantly though is the the practice of simply executing — in other words, building anything worth seriously pursuing is just work: Consistent, dedicated, and focused work.
The rest is up for grabs, but, that’s my view. So, here we go — grab a notepad as you don’t want to miss anything useful.
Building a business in today’s digital economy allows you to generate an incredible amount of momentum very quickly and at very little cost (great businesses live and breathe on all types of momentum, by the way).
If you can take a step back for a moment and see it for what it’s worth, the reality is that we live in the very best of times of business creation with tooling that can give us real shot of building something of significance.
I may repeat myself a few times here but as I sit here and type these words I’m overcome with a sense of abiding gratitude.
You see, I have been able to build a few companies of note in my short history, even selling my last one to a Fortune 300 company, and it’s all because I was born at a moment in history where this thing called the ‘internet’ became a viable utility for wealth creation.
With a few (or, actually, a lot) taps and clicks of our fingers across a keyboard we can connect with people across the world who will buy our products and user our services.
And the more you practice the fine art and science of business building the better you get. This is real entrepreneurship, by the way — I’ve told this to so many people in my life but it never gets old. In my limited and somewhat-opinionated perspective, entrepreneurship is really nothing more than a muscle that you work out, you practice.
In other words, entrepreneurship isn’t some magical set of skills, it’s not some latent talent, it’s not even a particular worldview or ideology; it’s just a muscle.
And just like working out your physical muscles in a gym the more you intentionally use them the better they become.
And, over time, the more you practice the more you become aware of their utility, for you uniquely.
That’s how I account for my previous experiences and with this perspective allows me to continue to build, hone, and practice my craft. It means that I can never stop learning, never stop improving. I like that.
So, with that in mind, the exercise that I walked through in the past week as I started putting the groundwork for a new company, TOMO, has been a real-life, real-time attempt to continue to refine and practice my own entrepreneurial muscles.
And it’s been glorious.
The First Pieces of the Puzzle
Now this is where I’m going to, essentially, break-down all that I did in the first 72 hours as I began putting the framework around TOMO, a new venture that is fixing the broken system that is new employee onboarding (these statistics are hard to swallow).
It’s an idea that I’ve been noodling on for quite some time but there wasn’t a perfect time to dive into until recently. And, to be honest, when my wife gave me the go-ahead to start putting the pieces together I didn’t have a moment to lose.
Again, what you’ll find below is both my process and my thinking.
It is very important to note that company building is both an art and a science — there are principles being applied that are almost universally applicable (this is the “science”) and yet, at the very same time, everyone has a different story of how they put their company together (this is the “art” side of things).
Essentially, there is no “right” nor “wrong” way of doing this — what you’ll find below is my unique angle and approach for this specific project.
The Domain and URL
The very first part of the puzzle, for me, is also one of the hardest. There’s a bit of logic hiding in plain sight here, but, for me after having purchased hundreds of domains and URLs over the years (don’t look at me funny… you’re guilty of it too…!) and having most of them collect dust in the corner (even though my intentions were really good) I have learned to stay my hand from the “Buy” button unless I’m actually going to be building something that day.
For many of us this is the hardest problem to solve and can take people days, weeks, or even months to “land” on something that they feel comfortable with. But here’s the thing — there’s a high probability that you’re going to change that domain in the end, even if you end up buying a fancy non-dot-com, so you might as well just choose one and get started.
With this in mind (and after tons of practice) I have put the hardest decision that I need to make in the very front, forcing me to commit to the project and thus, having overcome this hurdle, built an exponential amount of momentum.
My logic, if written out in bullet-point form, would follow this (loosely):
- Mentally commit to the idea.
- Choose a domain, knowing it’s most likely temporary (I know, this is hard…!)
- Find a .com
- Buy it.
I purchase nearly all of my domains via IWantMyName.com and I think they are just wonderful. Strangely, they have so many options that using their service may make the process considerably harder but, again, this is an exercise of execution over deliberation, at all costs.
How long did this entire process take me? I time boxed it (remember, the name is temporary, so the point is to just choose one and go!) and I gave myself 60 minutes to choose one.
Why a .com? Because Paul Graham says so:
If you have a US startup called X and you don’t have x.com, you should probably change your name.
His thoughts are sound and his essay on the entire topic resonated really strongly with me. The part about “denial” is especially powerful:
The way to neutralize the second source of denial, your inability to think of other potential names, is to acknowledge that you’re bad at naming. Naming is a completely separate skill from those you need to be a good founder. You can be a great startup founder but hopeless at thinking of names for your company.
I had to read that post a few times before the truth really sunk in — Yes, yes, yes… I’m terrible at naming, much better at just getting to work and putting the pieces together and… yet, I would agonize over the name.
No more. Get that junk out of the way and get on to putting your infrastructure in place! A startup is all about velocity and you have to build as much speed and momentum as you possibly can as quickly as you can!
Core Business Apps
I’m going to run through this next section really quick since it is more of the boring-yet-essential things that I sign-up for so I can get those things out of the way.
I’m a super-fan of Google Apps, not because I’m necessarily fond of paying money for email but because everyone is very familiar with this platform and the points of integration are astounding.
You’ve got 30 days to “prove your worth” and investment and so signing up and getting your junk together and hitting the bricks is exactly what I want to do.
In fact, it’s a nice little source of pressure as I think about how I can extend my financial runway as best as I possibly can. I, in gist, am pretty allergic to spending anything outside the absolute necessities at this point in time and this is money well spent.
You need something to show and pass around and so the next part of my 3 day hackathon is to put something out there so that people can get a sense of what I’m doing. There are so many different perspectives on how you start building steam, specifically around being “in stealth” or being more public about your efforts.
And since this is my post I’m just going to tell you straight-up what I think is best: Just go public with it! It’ll force you to move with greater speed and there’s a level of accountability with it that is very helpful for me.
Yeah, yeah, I know about all the “studies” that have been done about how sharing your goals can actually decrease your chance of completing them, but, the thing is with this 72 hour sprint is that there really isn’t a goal except to just start, act, go. So, there.
I have a ton of website solutions and hosting providers so I can’t give much advice here except that you should choose the cheapest one and just get started. I have a list of hosting providers I’ve used to get small projects up and running and you can find that post here — and the short list is right here:
Currently the landing page and marketing site of TOMO is hosted on #5, MediaTemple, and I’ve enjoyed working with them for years. They even did a Customer Spotlight on me a while back:
Okay, I’ve already spent more time on this part than I had planned, so, moving on…
Doing a Bit of Market Research with Typeform
The next bit is pretty obvious to me now but wasn’t when I first started. The trick to building momentum (if there is a “trick”…) with a new project is to make sure that you’re focusing your time on the things that are truly critical path. The problem is that everything is pretty critical at this point in time.
The art of focusing, refocusing, and refocusing again is hard. I’m not a master at it but I’ve gotten a good handle on making sure that I’m not wasting my time and “wondering” what I should be doing with my time.
Enter Typeform, a beautiful and intuitive form-building tool that I absolutely love. Here, I can easily and quickly put together a quick market research survey and get it out there on the web.
It’s even got some more advanced features that are easy to use like basic “logic” through the progression of the survey. For instance, if the person says “Yes” to an answer you can “jump” to another part of the survey based on that answer. So good, so quick.
There are a ton of resources out there that can help coach you on how to create the best market research survey and all you have to do is Google for that (so I won’t spend any time giving you any advice here).
But, the most important thing to remember is that you’re in the business of testing your hypotheses and you can never assume that you’ve done it well right out of the gate. Simple A/B testing of your survey and even changing them up completely is something you’ll want to to do.
At this point in time, just get this thing out of the door.
A Simple Landing Page
The next thing I do is put together a simple landing page that I can start pointing people to. This is another place where a ton of people lose steam because, for whatever reason, they believe that first impressions matter a ton.
Well, they kind of do, but not as much as you might believe (especially in this technical world). And, if you “lose” anyone at this point it doesn’t really matter because, well, you’re only a day old (or so). Those folks can go back to trolling Buzzfeed or something else just as meaningful.
There are also a ton of great resources out there to put together a simple landing pages and a lot of them are entirely free and they will even host that junk for you! You can do what you’d like but ultimately you should just choose one and go.
Remember, the goal of your first 72 hours is to just execute the hell out of this project — there is no time for deliberation! I just pulled up some old templates and designs I’ve used in the past and threw something together.
The most time I spent here was with the actual copy and content of the site and less time with the actual building part. The pieces here were really simple:
- Something that catches people’s attention.
- Some details about the problem I’m trying to solve.
- A CTA (“Call to Action”) which, in my case, was a simple survey.
- Some footer material.
Done and done.
Note: I hacked on this and consistently added pieces to it over the first week — you’ll do this as well as you put more of the moving parts together, trust me on this. Just get something out the door and keep fueling that momentum!
The next step is simple: Get some analytics running so that your landing and marketing page can start tracking clicks and also get some baseline stats for how you’re doing.
Head over to Google Analytics and setup your account. Drop that code like a bad habit on your marketing page and move on. There’s nothing more to do.
Later, you’ll appreciate that you started as soon as you did, trust me on this.
Logo and “Brand”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tackle the topic of a “logo” or some “brand iconography” — I use the quotes because I’m essentially saying that you should just choose something and go.
The simplest form is just do a text-based “design” of sorts, nothing fancy, but simple and clean. This is another area where a lot of people falter and start to slow down because, like the other areas, they feel like this showcases some level of “permanence” with who they are as a business and company when nothing could be farther from the truth (at least in my book).
I have a few image editing apps that I use including Acorn App, Pixelmator, and Sketch, and I might have just randomly opened the first one and chose some text and went with it… *checking my folders…* … … … yes, that’s exactly what I did.
I booted up Acorn App and then wrote “TOMO” in all-caps, hit “export” and then save. Done.
I did go one step further, though, and I threw this into a web-based system that creates Favicons for me:
This spits out a ton of favicons that you ca use for pretty much every platform under the sun:
And with that, I moved on to the next part…
Getting people locked-in through the survey is a big deal but not everyone that walks through your actual survey are going to want to stick around for much longer after that — so, you’ll want to create a system to capture the more interested parties into a proven communication platform.
That is a super long-winded way to say that you need a Email Newsletter system, and my go-to is MailChimp:
It’s simple, intuitive, and setting up your first Signup Form and List doesn’t take a rocket scientist. I put this on my new landing page as well as a link for them to hit up when they finish the survey.
In fact, adding that to the “Respondent Notification” section in your Typeform Survey is as you can see above.
Twitter, Facebook, and all of Those Other Things…
Love it or hate it you should use some social media because those things actually work. For me, this can be an incredible time-sink if you don’t manage it well and choose wisely.
My advice is simple: Choose one and then go. If you must use more than one, then that’s fine, but you don’t have much time to begin with, so deciding on using one of these mediums and actually using it really well is better than choosing all of them and sucking at them completely.
I decided to use Twitter and put that decision to bed. I sent out a tweet on the second day and just let people know that I was there.
No one was listening and that’s okay. No shame in my game.
I then linked this up to my homepage / marketing page and continued to iterate and refine.
A Blog System, Tool
Now, I could probably spend all day sharing my experience with blogging systems, platforms, and the like — heck, I’ve been blogging every single day for the past 15 years!
But, the most important thing at this point in time was, as I have mentioned 1,000 times already, just getting this done. For this project, I decided to move forward with Medium.com as my publishing platform of choice.
But wait a second… how did I get Medium to become the canonical “www.blog.trytomo.com”? Ah, that’s because I used Medium’s new-ish “Publication” feature and then requested that they hook me up with a Custom URL for it. You can find out all the details here.
The process is not incredibly hard but it does require you to finagle with your DNS and Zone File settings through your registrar. If that sounds super-confusing, then, perhaps you shouldn’t struggle with it and just starting a publication will be good enough for you.
I had to wait a few days for it to clear DNS and map, but it worked perfectly. I’m so happy with this implementation and I’m falling more in more in love with this service!
The “Official” Sites: LinkedIn, AngelList, and Crunchbase
Ugh, super-boring administrative work but this is what you have to do, right? Just get things in place so that you can scale.
And, better to do these things now than look back and wish you had actually built them sooner, right? They take a few minutes each and at this point you have most of what you need to give them a bit of meat to the bones, as they say.
You can see mine here:
Sure, they’ll probably be pretty dormant for a while, and that’s fine, but getting these things up and running can help create some positive signal for people that are encountering it.
Slack: Internal Communications & Culture Start Day #1
The next thing is that I begin to boot up some of the data systems that a company will need to use for their organization to grow and to be healthy.
This naturally includes an instance of Slack and so booting up that is quite easy, just like the rest of these systems listed above.
If you want another crazy-useful tip, I created a Slack Channel #standup and I do a daily standup every day @ 10:00am. And yes, for a while, I am the only one doing a standup, by myself.
The point of this exercise is three-fold, the first being that I need to keep myself accountable to what I’m doing and how I’m continuing to build momentum and velocity forward. I do your typical “Yesterday, Today, Blockers” framework and it works just fine for now. I type that out in the channel so I can get stuff done.
The second reason is for historical accounting and to help build the culture of the organization around things like communication, transparency, and the art of sharing with your team what you’re doing. New team members will be able to join and see how much is being shared and get an idea of how quickly I’ve put together base systems for my new company.
And, finally, it’s helpful to me to remind me about how much is getting done and be a boost of confidence when I need it most. The reality is that putting together a startup is hard and feelings of loneliness and challenges of depression are very, very real. You want to shore up as many things as possible so that when those things do come (and they will) you’ll have as much as you possible can to ward off those ill-feelings and emotions.
Dropbox — One of my Favs
I’ll just say it aloud: I think Dropbox is one of the best darn apps out there, period. I love it and I use it for everything data-related.
Setting this up was easy since I already had an account — just managing the folders and creating some structure was all it took.
The most important thing that you want to keep in mind as you start putting things together is to capture as much as you possibly can with what you’re doing. You’ll lose track of it easily and quickly as you move really, really fast.
Having a system of organization around your files and data is important and the culture that you create around data and file management, *gasp*, you guessed it, starts Day #1.
With Dropbox for Teams, the system is already ready to scale so I feel pretty darn comfortable with it moving forward. Gawd, I love Dropbox.
There are probably a few more systems and tools/apps that I have also setup in the first 72 hours and I’ll continue to add to this list as I remember them.
This post has taken a significant amount of time to compile so I really do need to get back to hacking on our prototype…
Please share this with as many people as you can so that others can get their projects and company started!
What’s in YOUR STARTER KIT?
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And Now… We Take a Breather…
Okay, you’ve done a ton of stuff in the last few days. In fact, you’re probably exhausted (as was I) but just look back at the trail of stuff that you’ve accomplished and understand that this is just the beginning.
After having put in my time as a startup founder I know this pace is real and legit. It’s hard and if you’ve never felt keyboard fatigue then you will — the tips of your fingers can literally start hurting as you’ve come to realize that they’ve been essentially glued there for the last few days.
But, this is what a startup is all about — building stuff quickly, testing and engineering your assumptions about what you *think* you know and iterating and moving with speed.
This is all speculative, sure, as you have really no idea if any of this will make any sense to your potential users, customers, investors, or even potential and future teammates and cofounders. But the point is to get moving, to build velocity and to create a sustainable momentum that won’t destroy you.
You may find it surprising but I’ve actually had really, really good nights of sleep in the past week as I’ve begun putting these things together. Partly that’s because the #1 value in my new company is Health.
I’ve shared it here below, something I typed out the very first evening that I started on the journey and something I really believe in:
We believe that we do our best work when we are in the best shape, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We will take the necessary time to rest, to recover, and to allow wholeness in our lives. We cannot fulfill our mission if we do not first have the most organizationally healthy company on the planet. We must be the model of what we hope and believe our customers can achieve.
I believe that every new company is an opportunity to start fresh, to start clean, to build something that you’re really stinking proud of. The problem is that every founder believes this and yet they make the profound mistake of ignoring their past experiences and habits and behaviors that were less-than healthy.
In other words, we all have the greatest intentions, especially with such things as “Value Statements” but most of them actually just get lip-serviced to death. Very few companies live out their values and very few founders practice what they initially preached.
I don’t want to be that type of Founder. I’m not that type of Founder. I want to work with great people who work incredibly hard on a mission that matters but first and foremost understand that to compete and to perform at the highest levels requires them to be in the best health that they can possibly be.
And so resting, taking a moment to breath, to reflect, to get restored, is a vital part of what I believe successful business building is all about. Run as hard as you possibly can, just like a sprinter, but then hydrate, rest, take a load off of your feet so you can prepare yourself physically and mentally for the next round of competition.
And, I’m still looking for great people to work with and people who fundamentally believe in my mission to create the best darn employee onboarding tool on the planet.
If you’re interested, let’s chat.