August 6, 2020

Stealth Startup 101 - The first 45 days

Ever wonder what it takes to get a start-up off the ground?  Well, so did we.

45 days ago, Matt & I decided to go for a short walk in a big park. Regent's Park, to be exact. And little did we know that it would be the start of a very exciting journey.

Matt and I had worked together once upon a time, and came away from that experience with a certain mutual admiration.  For me, it was my first paid contract here in the UK and it introduced me to a great group of tech folks, many of whom we plan on bringing into our band of misfits in the coming months.

But back to the walk: it had been four months of lockdown, and Matt was just back from the US. Both of us were keen to find an interesting and exciting tech role.  The topic of conversation turned to startups: I confessed my like for them, but my inability to come up with a good idea.  Matt said he had heaps of good ideas!  Then, encouraged by me, he pitched his best idea, one that would change the way that brands and retail stores interact, forever.

As you will notice from my writing style, I tend to be an open book and like sharing good ideas.  Being in stealth mode has been difficult: it means that we can't talk about the crux of the plan, lest our soon-to-be competitors decide it is indeed brilliant and create a race condition.  It also means that we have to use NDAs, codewords and careful language.  Not my favourite.

Now even though the idea is still under wraps, I can talk about what we've been doing to get it up and running.

The first and, if you believe my fellow engineers, hardest thing to do was to name the company.  This alone took two weeks and we nearly had to spend our tiny startup fund of money on it.  Fortunately, Matt is a creative fellow and, after ruling out dozens of contestants, we landed on a name that we both liked.  

Next was the second hardest part: prohibiting either of us from working on anything until we had made some "ground truth" decisions.  Big ones: like where should we be headquartered?  What is our Mission?  Do we have a Vision?  And the first real disagreement: Microsoft 365 vs G-Suite.  Rather than simply giving you the answers, let me focus on the process.  We had a long (and evergrowing) agenda that we would fill out in advance of our 1-hour Zoom calls, and I would force-rank the questions.  We would not leave a topic until we had a decision.  And one of the best decisions we made was to keep a Decision Log for "core" decisions so that we wouldn't be tempted to easily change our minds on these, and could easily share with new team members as they joined.  

Our decision log.  If you look carefully, you'll see the outcome of the 365 v G-Suite decision too.

This wasn't our only list. Inspired by James Chance and Dmitrios Mistriotis from Yourself.Online, we kept a careful list of everything we signed up for ("Business Subscriptions List") - this has already paid dividends for us, and forced us to make careful decisions so that we don't buy overlapping services.

The second disagreement we had was how to figure out the ownership division.  We agreed that it would be best for one person (Matt) to take the lead, but knew that we wanted to move very quickly and have an incentive plan that gave lots of leeway to compensate with equity over cash for the start.  We dug around and came up with - the single most interesting tool I've had the pleasure to use this year.  The short version: equity is dynamically re-allocated as the company grows, all the way to Series A.  I'm going to go into further detail in a subsequent blog post, but let's just say that we settled the disagreement quickly and are now actively trying to earn more of the company using the only metric that makes sense: hard work.

Then there were the usual suspects to setup: Trello, Slack, Stripe, Google Analytics and SeedLegals.  We rounded it out with a few more documents like the Financial Model, Business Plan, Product Roadmap, Business Model Canvas, Porter's 5 Forces (to make me feel better about paying for LBS) and an MVP playbook that we are still hammering away on.  

So now, 45 days in, we have a working company (minus a few details like a business credit card), a product that is held together enough for demo'ing weekly, a CI/CD pipeline that is fully running, and a backlog that is quickly getting unwieldy.  

I'm hopeful that we can hire that elusive VP Engineering and VP Network and Sales in the next two weeks and get our first paying customer soon.  Then again, I am ever the optimist.

Want to join us on this adventure?  Take a look at our careers pages.  We are looking for great people to join us!

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